Your state and Bay Area House-race roundup

All in all, it was a dismal night for Republicans in California House races.

Of the 11 California House races deemed competitive by the renowned Cook Political Report, Democrats won seven outright and are on top in two too-close-to-call other races. Another way of slicing and dicing it: All of the three endangered Democratic incumbents in these races won re-election, but only one of the four Republicans might’ve. And of the new or open seats, Democrats won three of the four.

More specifically:

    The battles to unseat Reps. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, and Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, remain too close to call with some mail-in and provisional ballots yet to be counted, but both trail their Democratic challengers by narrow margins.
    Reps. Jerry McNerney; John Garamendi, D-Fairfield; and Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara all turned away their Republican challengers to win re-election. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, is the only Republican incumbent definitely left standing in these competitive races.

Not than anyone considered it competitive, but Democrat Jared Huffman trounced Republican Dan Roberts to succeed Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-San Rafael, in the North Bay’s newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, which reaches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.

In the Bay Area, as usual, the only question for most Democratic incumbents (with the exception, of course, of Pete Stark) was by how enormous a margin they would dispatch their challengers. See how that all stacks up as of this hour, after the jump…
Continue Reading


Miller leads complaint about foreclosure aid

Rep. George Miller, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, led 18 House Democrats in complaining to the Obama Administration yesterday that not enough has been done to help distressed homeowners in the Bay Area and nationwide.

“We are writing to urge stronger and immediate actions by the Administration to help many of our constituents who are being routinely abused, lied to, and subjected to financial conflicts of interest by lenders and mortgage servicers, including those participating in federal programs,” they said in their letter to Vice President Joe Biden.

“Our constituents are running out of time. This Administration must stand up for America’s families caught in the housing crisis. The Making Home Affordable Program is simply not making sufficient progress to prevent unnecessary foreclosures. It has so far failed to ensure that mortgage servicers work with homeowners in good faith to achieve loss mitigation that works for homeowners, investors and our communities.”

With the $29 billion Home Affordable Modification Program having been pegged by the Government Accountability Office and other independent watchdogs as inefficient and in need of reform, House Republicans are targeting HAMP for elimination as part of their proposed budget cuts. Miller, D-Martinez, and his cohorts don’t support that, but rather are urging the program’s immediate improvement to crack down on mortgage servicers’ abusive practices.

Miller organized a meeting last week for more than a dozen of his colleagues with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan to convey their concern over HAMP and their constituents’ mistreatment. Among the signatories of yesterday’s letter were representatives John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.


Jackie Speier makes abortion debate personal

Hours after Rep. Jackie Speier joined some of her California Democratic House peers yesterday to voice concern over Republicans’ efforts to cut Title X family planning funding, she made national news by revealing on the House floor that she herself has had an abortion:

Speier, D-Hillsborough, spoke in response to the ardently anti-abortion-rights Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who had just read aloud graphic descriptions of abortion from a book. This all happened during debate over an amendment by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Speier moments ago Tweeted: “I’m overwhelmed by the warm comments I’ve received from across the U.S. I will always stand up for women’s health and reproductive rights.”

UPDATE @ 3:09 P.M.: Speier issued this statement today after the House voted 240-185 to pass Pence’s amendment:

“Last night, I spoke on the House floor about a painful time in my life when the pregnancy that my husband and I prayed for was unsuccessful. I had what’s called dilation and evacuation or d & e. The fetus slipped from my uterus into my vagina and could not survive. Today some news reports are implying that I wanted my pregnancy to end, but that is simply not true. I lost my baby.

“It is time to stop politicizing women’s health. For some, describing a procedure like the one I endured is nothing more than talking points. But for millions of women like me it’s much more—it’s something that will always be a part of us.

“Planned Parenthood provides vital services to women including family planning and cervical cancer screenings. I am disappointed that the House passed the Pence amendment to defund it. These sorts of policies would turn back the clock on women’s health and reproductive rights. I urge the Senate to defeat it. It is time to stop playing politics with our lives.”


Dems warn of House GOP budget’s impact on CA

California Democratic Congressional Delegation Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, rallied her troops today for a conference call with at least eight members highlighting how House Republicans’ budget plan would impact California.

“While we know reining in our deficit is necessary for economic prosperity, there is a responsible way to do it,” she said.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said that “in transportation, we’re really talking about serious, serious job losses in California” as the GOP plan cuts funding for high-speed rail, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, and other programs adding up to at least $1.25 billion.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, said she’s now circulating a letter to California House members asking Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect to California $2 billion in high-speed rail funds that Florida Gov. Rick Scott yesterday refused; senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer sent such a letter yesterday. Garamendi said unless California gets that money, the Republican budget will leave its rail project underfunded.

Speier was among several members on today’s call who voiced concern at the House GOP plan to cut Title X family planning funding; Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said Republicans are exercising their “vendetta” against family planning and women’s health.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, decried a potential $1.3 billion cut to community health care clinics; he said in a rural community like Watsonville where the clinic would lose $151,000 per year from its base grant, jobs would be lost and health access severely curtailed. “It really does have impacts on Main Street all over the United States.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, said even to a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat like himself, a cut like that makes no sense.

“What they’re doing is a lot like waking up in the morning and finding you’ve put on a lot of weight and deciding you’re going to take care of it by cutting off your leg,” Thompson said, noting sick people cut off from community clinic care will instead seek higher-cost care with traditional family-practice physicians or, worse yet, in emergency rooms. “The cost of health care for these folks is going to go through the roof.”

Farr said addressing the nation’s debt is important, but House Republicans are blurring the distinction between long-term debt – which he likened to a home mortgage – and short-term debt – more like a credit card – in order to score political points.

“What the Republicans are trying to do is scare everybody with the long-term debt saying you have to pay it off right away,” he said, when in fact it’s better to approach that long-term debt with a deliberate, long-term plan rather than “a meat ax.”


Lawmakers urge banks to allow aid for jobless

Five Northern California members of Congress are pressuring mortgage servicers to work with a new federally funded program in California intended to help unemployed homeowners pay their mortgages and avoid foreclosure.

The Keep Your Home California Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program provides qualified unemployed homeowners up to $3,000 a month for up to six months to help pay their mortgage. But according to the office of Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, if the monthly mortgage exceeds $3,000, the servicers won’t accept any payment at all, even if the homeowner could send a second check to cover the difference between what is owed and what the program covers. As a result, unemployed homeowners who could avoid foreclosure proceedings thanks to this program are instead at risk of failing to pay their mortgage and landing in foreclosure.

“If this program is to have meaningful success, mortgage servicers are going to have to get on board with processing these payments,” Miller said in a news release. “Refusing to accept dual payments is unacceptable and is a disservice to the homeowners who are doing everything they can to stay in their homes while they look for work. Homeowners shouldn’t have to forfeit their homes because of bureaucratic intransigence by banks and servicers.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, another of the letter’s signers, said “it’s time that banks and servicers become part of the solution and not the problem.

“It’s ridiculous that servicers and banks are unwilling to participate in a program that will help protect the value of the very asset on which their loan is based on,” she said. “I find it deeply troubling that servicers would have borrowers default rather than simply accepting payment.”

In their letter – also signed by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz – they wrote that, “we believe refusing to accept supplementary payments from homeowners is inexcusable and we strongly urge you to remedy this problem expeditiously… It is unacceptable that servicers in California are unwilling or unable to figure out a workable resolution to this problem, particularly given that two viable options to address the issue exist.”

Those options, they say, are either to accept two checks (one from the program and one from the homeowner) or to forebear the amount of the mortgage that exceeds the $3,000 program payment.


Jackie Speier offers online, financial privacy bills

Worried that Facebook, Google or some other online entity is collecting, using and sharing data on your online activities? Rep. Jackie Speier says she has your back, with one of two bills she introduced today aimed at protecting people’s personal information.

The Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011 (H.R. 654) aims to give consumers the ability to prevent the collection and use of data on their online activities, directing the Federal Trade Commission to develop standards for a “Do Not Track” mechanism so people can choose upfront to opt out of the collection, use or sale of their online activities, and require covered entities to respect the consumer’s choice. Failure to do so would be considered an unfair or deceptive act punishable by law. The covered entity would have to disclose its collection and sharing practices, including with whom the information is shared. The bill would allow the FTC to exempt commonly accepted commercial practices like the collection of information for billing purposes.

“People have a right to surf the web without Big Brother watching their every move and announcing it to the world,” said Speier, D-Hillsborough. “The internet marketplace has matured, and it is time for consumers’ protections to keep pace.”

Speier cited a USA Today poll released Tuesday that showed that 70 percent of Facebook members and 52 percent of Google users say they are either “somewhat” or “very concerned” about their privacy.

“It’s crucial that Americans have as much control over their online privacy as possible and this bill is a welcome and important first step toward that goal,” American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese said. “Signing on to the Internet shouldn’t mean signing away your privacy. Americans must have a mechanism in place to opt out of having their online habits tracked so that they can protect their most sensitive information. A ‘do not track’ list is a logical and common sense place to start. We urge the House to make this bill a priority.”

Speier also introduced the Financial Information Privacy Act of 2011 (H.R. 653), which aims to give consumers control of their own financial information. The bill mirrors a California law Speier steered to passage that prevents financial institutions from sharing or selling personally identifiable nonpublic information with affiliates without an opportunity to opt-out, or in the case of unaffiliated third parties, a requirement that consumers opt-in.

“Because of the law we passed in California, consumers now have the clear and simple ability to prevent financial institutions from sharing their personal information,” Speier said. “Every American deserves that right.”