As some in Congress look to the stimulus bill for "shovel-ready" projects, money for the jobless, or tax cuts to get the economy working again, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) has been waging a lonely effort to focus the stimulus billions on relieving mortgage debt and loosening up bank lending.
Miss Kaptur wants to double down on what she says is the single biggest reason for the nation's frightening economic stall: the collapse of the housing market because of the mortgage meltdown and the banks' refusal to loan money to businesses.
Last week, she
al coverage on CNN with her speech telling Americans threatened with foreclosure to "be squatters in your own homes. Don't you leave."
And Thursday night at a Dem-
ocratic leadership retreat in Wil-
liamsburg, Va., Miss Kaptur but -
tonholed President Obama about her favorite subject.
"I spoke to him again about it last night," she said Friday. "I said, 'Use FDIC and use SEC.' His answer to me was, 'We're going to be doing that,' but he didn't say how much."
Miss Kaptur, from Ohio's 9th District, which includes Toledo and stretches to Lorain County, contends that empowering the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to work with banks to rewrite crushing mortgage terms that families can't afford to pay and the Securities and Exchange Commission to force banks to lend to credit-starved businesses is the quickest and most cost-effective way to reverse the recession.
She also urged the President to take action to get the banks that have received bailout money to resume making loans to "green energy" companies in the Toledo area to restart their factories.
"He specifically in his summary remarks singled me out of all the members that were there that he heard my message that the lines of credit were frozen and we had to do something about the banking and they intended to do that," she said.
She said Friday she wasn't ready to be optimistic, despite Mr. Obama's promise to her.
"It depends on what they do. If all they do is create a bank to buy bad assets, that's not a good idea," Miss Kaptur said.
"There isn't enough money to buy all the losses. The loans have to be worked out with the respective institutions."
In October, she joined with Republicans and a few other Democrats in voting against the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program bailout.
Last month, she attacked the House leadership of her own party over the $819 billion stimulus bill that she said was "jammed" through Jan. 28 without input from the members - although she voted for it.
"We have the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and our committees are muzzled," Miss Kaptur said in one of her speeches.
She has repeatedly attacked Wall Street, and has accused the Treasury Department of having a cozy relationship with the banking houses that she blames for the credit crisis.
Miss Kaptur's economic populist stance is typical of her long career, say observers.
The leftist Nation magazine named her "Most Valuable House Member" because of the way she rallied opposition to the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street banks.
"She is one of the few Democrats who actually understands that the only economic 'fix' for America will be the one that begins on Main Street," the magazine wrote.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents about 1,800 small and medium-sized manufacturers, appreciates her staunch criticism of free trade deals.
Alan Tonelson, a research fellow for the business council, said Miss Kaptur is a good spokesman for the growing campaign to protect American manufacturing from unfair trade deals that allow foreign competitors to sell their products in the United States but don't allow American products in their own countries.
"She's an absolute maverick," Mr. Tonelson said.
Despite her rank as 34th in House seniority, she has not broken into the leadership ranks, which observers say is because of her unwillingness to raise large sums of campaign donations and because of her independent streak.
In November, she ran for the post of deputy chairman of the Democratic caucus in the House, losing 175-67 to Rep. Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.), who had been assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow California Democrat.
Pat Choate, an economist who was Ross Perot's running mate on the Reform Party ticket in 1996 and who runs the Manufacturing Policy Project think tank, said her showing in that contest demonstrated her strength because she was running against the speaker's candidate.
"Much of the opposition to the way that TARP was done is from Marcy," said Mr. Choate, referring to the $700 billion bank bailout in October.
"She was the one that helped organize the defeat of that vote in the House." He said the Bush administration loaded the bill up with political "pork" to override opposition in the House and Senate.
Miss Kaptur said she voted for the $819 billion stimulus bill last month, despite its flaws, because of the money it contained for emergency assistance to people who have lost jobs, health insurance, and even homes.
"We cannot turn our backs on the people who are at the edge right now," she said.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) whose 5th District borders Miss Kaptur's, said he hasn't been following her campaign against Wall Street closely.
Like her, he opposed the $700 billion TARP plan in October, but unlike her, he voted against the $819 billion stimulus bill, saying it will unfold too slowly to rescue the economy but will saddle Americans with an additional $1.6 trillion in debt.
He is supporting an alternative bill crafted by the Republican caucus that is focused primarily on a variety of tax cuts.
"I have not heard them justify any of these expenses, how this is supposed to stimulate the economy," Mr. Latta said of the Democratic-backed bill.
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