- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

MORTGAGES

Frank threatens to penalize banks

A senior House Democrat warned Wednesday that if banks don’t volunteer to save more homeowners from foreclosure, Congress will force them.

In a sternly worded statement, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said Congress will revive legislation that would let bankruptcy judges reduce a person’s monthly mortgage payment, if the number of loan modifications remain low.

Mr. Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, also said his committee won’t consider legislation to help banks lend unless there is a “significant increase” in mortgage modifications.

Mr. Frank’s statement was aimed at adding momentum to a deal struck Tuesday between Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and more than two dozen mortgage companies. The two sides agreed to set the goal of adjusting 500,000 loans by Nov. 1.

But it was far from clear whether that would happen.

SENATE

No GM, Chrysler stock for taxpayers

The Senate rejected a plan Wednesday to give taxpayers stock certificates for their share of the government’s ownership stake in General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

The Senate defeated the plan, sought by Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, by a 38-59 vote. Mr. Alexander’s proposal also would have blocked the government from using any more money from last year’s Wall Street bailout to help out the car companies.

“Give the stock the government owns in General Motors and Chrysler to the 120 million Americans who paid taxes on April 15,” Mr. Alexander said.

Since bailing out the companies late last year, the government has provided about $50 billion to GM and about $15.5 billion to Chrysler, along with additional federal aid to the automakers’ financing arms and suppliers. The U.S. government owns 61 percent of the new GM and 8 percent of Chrysler.

“If they paid for it, they should own it,” Mr. Alexander said.

But Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Mr. Alexander’s amendment would dilute the power of the government to deal with the companies, especially GM.

GUANTANAMO

U.S. considers release of prisoner

The Obama administration said Wednesday that it was prepared to release one of the youngest prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, days after signaling it might bring him to the United States for a criminal trial.

Government attorneys asked a federal judge to give them three weeks to release Mohammed Jawad. He has been held at the U.S. naval facility in Cuba for nearly seven years since being arrested for reportedly wounding two U.S. soldiers and their interpreter by throwing a grenade at their jeep in Afghanistan.

On Friday, the Justice Department said it wanted to hold Jawad at Guantanamo while conducting a criminal investigation, saying it had new eyewitness evidence and would speed up a grand jury investigation.

In the newest court filing, prosecutors also held out the possibility they could turn over Jawad to another country rather than bring him to the U.S. for trial. Jawad’s lawyers have been trying for years to get him released to his native Afghanistan.

TELEVISION

Beer, White House draw big laughs

NEW YORK | Late-night comics found a few things to laugh about in the racially charged arrest of a Harvard professor - once beer was added to the equation.

President Obama’s invitation to the two men involved to hoist a few at the White House on Thursday opened the comedy floodgates. Before that, the late-night TV world dominated by white comics largely stayed away from the subject of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s confrontation at his home with white police officer, Sgt. Joseph Crowley.

“Alcohol usually cools things off - have you noticed that?” CBS’ “Late Night” David Letterman said Tuesday night.

NBC’s “Tonight” show host Conan O’Brien said that if the White House meeting works out, “Obama is going to have Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu over for Jaeger bombs.”

SENATE

Four pages suffer flulike symptoms

The Senate sergeant-at-arms said four summer pages are exhibiting symptoms similar to swine flu and have been quarantined.

Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer said the Senate’s Office of Attending Physician would not test the pages for the H1N1 virus because the accuracy of the tests is poor and because it would not alter the treatment plan.

Pages must be high school juniors and at least 16 years old. They serve primarily as messengers. The current class numbers 50 pages.

Mr. Gainer, in a message to the senators and their staffs late Tuesday, said two of the pages were improving. Two others fell ill Tuesday.

SENATE

Panel approves whistleblower bill

A Senate committee on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation to protect federal employees from being punished for blowing the whistle on waste and corruption.

The bill allows many government workers to take reprisal complaints to a federal court, where a jury can hear the case. For employees at U.S. intelligence agencies who have access to the nation’s deepest secrets, it creates a special board with members appointed by the president to examine retaliation claims.

Under the current system, whistleblowers at most government agencies can challenge adverse administrative decisions outside their agencies. But not only are these appeal rights too narrow, whistleblowers advocates say, intelligence agency employees aren’t covered due to the sensitive nature of their jobs.

The White House, which was closely involved in the crafting of the Senate bill, called the vote by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee “a bipartisan breakthrough for whistleblower rights.”

Public interest groups hailed passage of the bill even as they push for broader reforms.

VOTE

Congress backs pardon for boxer

Congress has approved a resolution urging a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, the late black heavyweight champion who was imprisoned because of his romantic ties with a white woman.

The House passed the resolution Wednesday by voice vote, about a month after the Senate approved it.

Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion in 1908, a century before the nation elected Barack Obama its first black president. The Senate resolution was sponsored by Mr. Obama’s 2008 Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. The law has since been heavily amended, but has not been repealed.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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