Time to Confirm Watt
By Liz Ryan Murray
In today’s highly partisan and divided Congress there are very few issues that unite a progressive Democratic senator from Massachusetts and conservative Republican senator from North Carolina. There are even fewer issues where progressive advocates and Wall Street bankers are on the same page. Yet everyone from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), from National People’s Action to the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders, are supporting Rep. Mel Watt’s (D-N.C.) nomination to become the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).
Despite this bipartisan support in today’s dysfunctional Washington, a highly qualified and non-controversial nominee is not assured even an up or down vote in the Senate. In fact, some of the very senators who just championed the government shutdown are threatening to filibuster Watt’s nomination and deny the vital agency that oversees housing policy for the county its first permanent director in more than six years. Add to that the fact that it’s practically unheard of for a sitting congressman not to be confirmed by his Senate colleagues, much less filibustered, and we’re looking at a level of obstructionism that’s truly mind-boggling. But it’s not just a parlor game of politics – in the same way these politicians brought us the shutdown and the sequester cuts, their inaction here is actively hurting millions of Americans.
The FHFA director oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored agencies that control well over half the mortgage market. The direction of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac directly impacts millions of homeowners and their families, our entire housing market and the future of our economy. But instead of steady leadership at FHFA, since 2009 a Bush-era holdover has run the agencies.
Watt’s credentials are impeccable and perfectly matched for the job he has been nominated for. As one of the highest-ranking members of the House Financial Services Committee, Watt has had a long and distinguished career in dealing with a wide number of housing and banking issues. Over the past 40 years, Watt has a history of sponsoring bills across the political aisle, was one of the early voices to warn of the subprime lending crisis and has championed middle-class homeownership in his private and public servant career.
In a functioning Washington a highly qualified nominee with bipartisan support would have no problem getting an up or down vote. But, as the world witnessed recently with the government shutdown, this is not a normal time. A small, but vocal, group of Tea Party-led members are determined to not only shut down our government but shut down our democracy at every turn. We hope they change their tune and get it right this time.
Ryan Murray is the policy director for National People's Action.