Sometimes, small changes can have big impacts.
If the debate over the Senate’s parliamentary procedure in the case of presidential nominations made you want to take a long snooze, no one would blame you. But thanks to new Senate rules, a minority of senators can no longer block a presidential appointment for no reason without standing up and saying why.
And thanks to this long-awaited rules change, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has its first new director since the Bush Administration: former North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt.
Democrats have taken advantage of their weakening of filibusters and muscled through the Senate President Barack Obama’s pick to lead a housing regulation agency.
By 57-41 Tuesday, senators confirmed Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Obama nominated the North Carolina Democrat in May but he’s been in limbo ever since. Republicans have said he’s not qualified, while Democrats say the 21-year House veteran has the needed experience.
Until Tuesday, Watt’s nomination was blocked because Democrats needed 60 Senate votes to end a GOP filibuster. But last month, the chamber’s majority Democrats lowered that threshold to a simple majority.
Here’s why this is a big deal for American homeowners:
Since Republicans in the Senate wouldn’t allow a fair vote on a new FHFA Director, we were stuck with Bush’s guy: Ed DeMarco. DeMarco was a longtime opponent of government efforts to help homeowners affected by Wall Street’s brazen fraud and abuse. Specifically, DeMarco opposed the practice of “principal reduction,” encouraging banks to rewrite mortgages for underwater homeowners. Time after time, he rejected proposals from the Obama Administration to lend this kind of assistance to struggling people who had lost their homes or were about to lose their homes.
“I don’t know what DeMarco’s specific legal mandate is,” wrote economist Paul Krugman, “But there is simply no way that it makes sense for an agency director to use his position to block implementation of the president’s economic policy…This guy needs to go.”
DeMarco continued his harmful policies to the very end:
DeMarco was so extreme that he even opposed allowing lenders to sell foreclosed homes back to the previous owners, even if they had been victims of predatory loans and even if they made the best offer to purchase the house. Realizing that Watt would soon be sitting in his seat, DeMarco — on the eve of the vote to confirm his replacement — put into place mortgage fees that punish homeowners in states that have enacted strong protections against foreclosure abuses.
Rarely does one person stand in the way of relief for so many. But DeMarco was that guy. And now he’s gone.
Housing and community groups have high hopes for new Director Watt, a member of Congress who supported the creation of Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and worked to get anti-predatory lending provisions into the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill.