The White House and Congressional Democrats were caught off-guard by the quality, quantity and perseverance of Republican opposition to the economic stimulus plan, perhaps lulled by the opposition party's joyful, pre-inaugural riffs of a bipartisanship theme.  Communication -postmortems have been conducted by White House, House and Senate Democratic officials. And as the president introduces his plan to remedy the housing crisis, they're operating off lessons learned.

 

First: be pre-emptive in framing.  That's the idea behind a research release from the Center for American Progress. Don't let Republicans appear on talk shows without giving their media interlocutors something to challenge them with. As Republicans carp about the plan, you'll see Democrats point out that Republicans have been urging the president to get to this phase of the economic recovery universe more quickly.

 

The goal is to make it difficult for Republicans to keep saying they support the goals of the president's plans but not the legislation aiming to further them. Do Americans really think there is such a vast divide between the way Republicans and Democrats want to accomplish things that Republicans just simply can't bring themselves to support the legislation to advance goals everyone agrees on?

On the other hand, party unity is a precious commodity. The balancing act for Republicans is to find the sweet spot where opposition to the Obama agenda does not seem to the American people like (a) opposition for the sake of opposition or (b) opposition arising out of wedlock between Congressional Republicans and political conservativism of recent years, a failed state, in the eyes of voters.

 

The main Republican criticisms of the plan appear to be that the plan doesn't help those who need it -- Sen. Richard Shelby says it helps those who least need it, pointing to the Fannie/Freddie refinancing instructions, which would allow "underwater homeowners to refinance even if they are not at risk of default."  You'll see Republicans pound away at Democrats for not prioritizing the need to keep people in their homes.

 

Privately, Democrats and White House officials say that, indeed, one of the longer short term goals (not an oxymoron) is to nudge people who shouldn't be owning homes back into the rental market until the economy stabilizes.

 

Also: a goal is to prevent foreclosure waves, the idea being that foreclosed properties reduce home prices by a significant amount and produce social costs that exceed the suffering experienced by the buyer and the lender. Keeping people who can afford homes in their homes is one of the best ways, the administration believes, to drive out speculators and balance the market. Through incentives, the government wants to convince private lenders that it's worth their dime to renegotiate mortgages without acrimony, and ultimately, to reduce the debt-to-income ratio to around 30% ; crucially, according to the White House, the government isn't doing the lending directly. 

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