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Profiles in Courage: Obama's Freshman Democratic Senators

3:20 PM, Jan 16, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Of seven newly minted freshman Democratic senators, six voted for releasing the second half of the $700 billion TARP funds in what is being considered Obama's first major test of strength on the Hill. This would be rather uncontroversial had not five of them, to some degree or another, campaigned against the original, unpopular bailout bill to win their seats.

The most flagrant offender is Jeff Merkley, who ran an ad against his opponent Gordon Smith harping on the bailout:

At the time of the first vote, Merkley commended fellow Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden for voting against the bill. Wyden, who is facing reelection in 2010, voted against releasing the second half of the bailout, too. Of the eight Democrats who Obama lost on the vote, five are up for reelection in 2010, and these kind of poll numbers were presumably more persuasive than The One himself.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Co.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) both voted against the bailout when they were in the House and running for Senate, but backed Obama's plea for $350 billion last night. Mark voted against both versions of the bill in the House, claiming that the oversight rules for the TARP money were not enough to satisfy him. As of just six days ago, even the watchdog panel appointed to oversee the TARP money agreed that the program needed more oversight before the second half was released:

She said Treasury has still not adequately explained how it is selecting banks for its $250 billion program to inject capital directly into the financial system.

"The panel's initial concerns about the TARP have only grown, exacerbated by the shifting explanations of its purposes and the tools used by Treasury," the report said. It said Treasury had "not yet explained its strategy" for stabilizing the financial markets.

Tom Udall similarly slammed both versions of the bailout bill only to okay the second half this week:

In addition, the bailout bill approved by Congress is rife with problems. To begin, the bill's oversight provisions amount to little more than a congressional rubber stamp.

Instead of bailing out Wall Street investors, the bill should have helped responsible homeowners by allowing them to renegotiate their mortgages in bankruptcy court. This would have addressed the root cause of the problem - risky mortgages gone bad - while helping responsible families stay in their homes.

Merkley and both Udalls are taking flak from the Left for their votes, with David Sirota claiming the votes signify that they "have absolutely no principles - that, in fact, they are the worst stereotype of politicians."

Mark Begich, who defeated Sen. Ted Stevens in Alaska, was more tepid in his denouncement of the bailout, but nonetheless used it to distance himself from President Bush and the current Congress, offering the refrain that it didn't do enough for Main Street.

Kay Hagan, who took down Liddy Dole in N.C., repeatedly dodged taking a position on the bailout during the campaign before finally putting out a press release after the bailout vote in the Senate indicating she would have voted "no":

"It's a fix for Wall Street, not Main Street, and this isn't a situation where we can afford to only address half the problem," she said in a statement. "I've said that any new bailout legislation must add real accountability, oversight and protections for Main Street to ensure we never find ourselves in this position again."

Dole voted against the bailout.