Washington Extra – Just “okay”

February 10, 2012

It was a long slog to the government’s mortgage abuse settlement with top banks, one in which officials slept in their offices and worked round the clock. And yet, a consumer advocate looking out for those who lost homes to foreclosure can only muster an “it’s okay.”

You don’t need an expert to tell you how little of a dent the $25 billion deal makes in a mortgage morass that President Obama reminded us is one of the biggest drags on the economy. It took 16 months to get to a settlement that helps roughly 1 million borrowers, while 11 million Americans owe more money that what their homes are worth. People who lost their homes to foreclosures will get payments of $2,000. Home prices, meanwhile, are still 33 percent lower than 2006.

It’s a lot of work for a little relief. But if there is one constituent that walks away satisfied it has to be the state of California. Attorney General Kamala Harris held out for a better deal right to the end. What she won was 45 percent of the settlement spoils, and she only came to the table with a third of the nation’s foreclosures in her portfolio. It pays to play hard to get.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

U.S. banks agree to $25 billion in homeowner help

Five big U.S. banks accused of abusive mortgage practices have agreed to a $25 billion government settlement that may help roughly one million borrowers but is no magic bullet for the ailing housing market. The record state-federal settlement will spread relief widely in the form of mortgage relief and $2,000 payments to borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure.

For more of this story by Aruna Viswanatha, read here.

For a factbox on U.S. efforts to combat foreclosures, read here.

Biden says contraceptives fight can be worked out

Vice President Joe Biden said the White House was working to address concerns raised by the Catholic church over a new rule on contraceptives, and he believed an escalating election-year battle over the issue would be resolved. Top Republicans, including the party’s presidential candidates have condemned the rule as an assault on religious liberty. Prominent Democrats and women’s health groups have urged President Barack Obama to hold his ground.

For more of this story by Thomas Ferraro and John Whitesides, read here.

Exclusive: US squeezes French-led satellite maker over China
The United States has threatened action that could disrupt a French-led satellite maker’s supply chain, spurred by suspicion that it illegally used U.S. know-how or parts in spacecraft launched by Chinese rockets. The State Department last month quietly warned the company, Thales Alenia Space, that export licenses needed by its U.S. suppliers might be denied, absent greater cooperation in an investigation of the matter, a department email obtained by Reuters showed.

For more of this story by Jim Wolf, read here.

US approves first nuclear plant in a generation

U.S. regulators approved plans to build the first new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years, despite objections of the panel’s chairman who cited safety concerns stemming from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted to allow Atlanta-based Southern Co to build and operate two new nuclear power reactors at its existing Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia.  The approval was cold comfort for nuclear industry officials who have touted a “renaissance” that has failed to materialize, undercut by high costs and the cheapest natural gas prices in about a decade.

For more of this story by Ayesha Rascoe, read here.

US House passes curbs on lawmaker insider trading

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed new curbs on insider trading by lawmakers and other government officials despite complaints from Democrats and some Republicans that key anti-corruption provisions were dropped. The legislation, aimed at ensuring lawmakers do not profit from non-public knowledge they gain through their positions, is the most extensive effort to clamp down on Congress’ personal business dealings in years. Lawmakers have seized upon it amid approval ratings that continue to plumb new lows.

For more of this story by David Lawder, read here.

womenNew Pentagon rules could put women closer to combat

The Pentagon is preparing to open thousands of military jobs including medics and intelligence officers to women in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, a move likely to shift them closer to the fighting and rekindle the debate on women in combat. Under new rules set to be unveiled, the Defense Department would continue to prohibit women from serving in infantry, armor and special operations units whose main function is to engage in front-line combat, defense officials said.

For more of this story by David Alexander, read here.

Facing more key votes, Romney can’t afford another stumble

Many Republicans may have growing concerns about their presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, but no one is pushing the panic button – yet. That could change quickly, however, if Romney does not reverse Tuesday’s three-state losing streak to Rick Santorum by winning in Arizona and Michigan on February 28, and then having a strong showing in 10 “Super Tuesday” contests on March 6.

For more of this story by John Whitesides and Sam Youngman, read here.

What we’re blogging…

Maybe it’s better not to get that big endorsement

One staple of the U.S. political scene is the quest for endorsements, and Republican front-runner Mitt Romney seems to be leading in the race for support from the GOP establishment. He picked up the support of Arizona Senator John McCain, who was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, who also was a member of the U.S. presidential field until August.

For more of this story by Patricia Zengerle, read here.

For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.


Photo Credits: REUTERS/Lee Celano (Blighted house in New Oreleans); REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (Condo of Detroit City Council president said to be in foreclosure);REUTERS/Bassim Shati (A U.S. soldier at sewing factory near Baghdad); REUTERS/Larry Downing (Biden, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko with  commissioners Kristine Svinicki and George Apostolakis )

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