For all of the bank's moralizing, [the sanctity of contracts] is not what's at issue here. It's the $448 billion in equity lines and other junior loans held primarily by the nation's four biggest banks. If principal writedown is allowed, most of the equity lines involved will be wiped out if the property is underwater. In fact, the plan Obama announced last week for owners of such homes allowed only 10 cents to 20 cents on the dollar for second-lien holders.

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