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WASHINGTON, DC-Impending problems with commercial mortgages are making their way into the public domain and appear to be catching–finally–the attention of Congress. The latest missive comes from Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairperson Sheila Blair, who warned in a television interview that commercial real estate loan problems are about to be on par with the losses banks experienced from sour residential loans.

Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank president Dennis Lockhart also raised an alarm last week in remarks to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, noting that “commercial real estate weakness poses a serious potential risk to the economic recovery and to the banking system.” He said that the Fed would have to guard against tightening monetary policy too soon, as a result.

While such news is discouraging for an industry that is already reeling there is one compensation: as they realize that CRE is facing a huge debt deficit, Congress may become more inclined to act. Up until now, Congress and constituents have been battling bailout fatigue. However as the alarm bells are sounded by credible authorities–a Fed bank president as opposed to, say, an industry association representative–the will to pass additional support may be mustered.

“Politically there was only so much Congress could have done at the beginning of the year–there was just too much outrage over TARP,” Peter Cohan, of Peter Cohan and Associates, tells GlobeSt.com. “Also there wasn’t a sense of an immediate crisis with commercial real estate, so it made sense to back-burner that particular problem.”

Now, though, numbers that have been emblazoned in the industry’s consciousness are starting to make their way into the public domain. There is $153 billion worth of CMBS loans coming due in 2012, many of which are secured by properties that have declined significantly in value, Cohan noted. “The industry knows all this, but I think it is starting to sink in with the public and Congress.”

Indeed, this week New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke asking them to take “early and forceful measures” to address the rapid decline of the commercial real estate market.

“The federal government can, and must, craft solutions that help kick-start commercial lending and the market for commercial mortgage-backed securities,” he notes.

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