THE BLOG
06/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Who Is Lying -- Barack Obama or Sen. Michael Bennet?

In the aftermath of the U.S. Senate defeat of "cramdown" legislation (ie. the bill that would have allowed bankruptcy judges renegotiate the terms of mortages so as to prevent foreclosures), I"m still wondering why almost nobody has bothered to ask cramdown opponents in the Senate why they support cramdown for rich people but not for The Rest of Us. But now, after a stunning yet little-noticed nugget in the Denver Post, I'm wondering why nobody has asked this same question of President Obama.

The president has said - and continues to say - he supports cramdown, but as Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet's (D) office told the Denver Post, the Obama administration signaled it wanted the Senate to stop the cramdown bill. Indeed, in editorial writer Chuck Plunkett's oversimplified editorial* against the cramdown bill, we get this:

Bennet's clear-eyed rejection of the provision will help the little guy far more. That this is true is (perhaps) underscored by the fact that no less a champion of the little guy than President Barack Obama apparently let this provision meet its death.

I say this because I considered Bennet's vote the first significant break with the Obama administration. But when I talked with his office to seek an interview, Bennet spokeswoman Deirdre Murphy told me Bennet believes that Obama no longer supported the cram-down language. Though the president supported a cram-down approach on the campaign trail, many news outlets have pointed out he did not lobby for it once debate grew heated.

On the substance of cramdown, I completely disagree with Plunkett - his claim that "the current economic climate is incentive enough for banks to refinance loans that would help keep borrowers solvent" sounds great, and I wish it were true, but it flies in the face of new data that show "the nation's largest mortgage companies are stepping up foreclosures" (evidently, Plunkett couldn't be bothered to spend five minutes on Google actually checking to see whether his speculation had any grounding in fact). And his insistence on repeating banking industry talking points that claim "cram down" would "force executives to raise [interest] rates to balance the books" is belied by the fact that interest rates have continued to fall as "cram down" has been available for the wealthy and for business in dealing with their vacation homes and investment properties, respectively.

But then, one newspaper editorial writer's fact-free screed isn't all that interesting - what's newsy about Plunkett's piece the fairly major allegation within it: Yes, according to the piece, we have a U.S. Senator's office insisting that the President of the United States indicated to key senate swing votes that he was AOK with them voting down a bill he was telling the public he supported. That's pretty big news, especially since the senator making the allegation is a guy who could face a Democratic primary, and therefore will use this rationale as his defense to Democratic voters.

The question now is whether Bennet's allegation is true and the president has been lying to the public, or whether Bennet has made up a lie in order to justify his vote for banking industry interests over his constituents interests? Put another way, someone's pants are on fire in this controversy: Either President Obama is lying by telling the public he supports cramdown but is then quietly telling senators he opposes it. Or, Michael Bennet is lying by telling the public he voted against cramdown because Obama wanted him to when, in fact, Obama didn't want him to.

So, who do you think is lying - Bennet or Obama? I posed this question to Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent on the morning drive-time show on KKZN AM760 that I'm guest hosting. You can listen to the interview here - he suggests both are fudging the truth in their own ways. But I'm curious what you think...

* Not surprisingly, Plunkett doesn't bother to ask - or even ponder - the same question that every other journalist refuses to ask: Namely, why they think it is an outrage to allow cramdown for regular people, but perfectly OK to allow it for the super rich.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I guess it's possible Bennet genuinely "believed" Obama didn't support cramdown, when Obama actually did. That would mean neither Obama or Bennet is lying, but instead that Bennet is an idiot and voted based on his belief that all of Obama's cramdown rhetoric countered - and worse, that Bennet voted this way without checking with the White House first. I left this as an afterthought, though, because it stretches the limits of possibility - Bennet is a lot of things, but he's just not that stupid.

ADDENDUM: It seems very strange that organized labor is threatening a Democratic primary against Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania for his refusal to back the Employee Free Choice Act, but not publicly threatening a primary against Bennet, who is refusing to take a position on EFCA and who is far more beatable in a primary than Specter (though I do think Specter is eminently beatable). Now, I know there are partisan shills out there who claim that Bennet has some super secret Pony plan to use his silence on EFCA for progressive ends, but that conspiracy theorizing is just shameless politician worshiping, if you ask me. As we've learned over and over again, there are never Super Secret Pony plans - and in this case, if he's doing anything on EFCA, it's trying to play business off labor to maximize campaign contributions. I point this out in this post because this is yet another issue in which Bennet is voting against basic economic fairness, and it strikes me as strange that labor is relatively silent.