Obstruction Loses! American Homeowners Win! The End of the DeMarco Era.

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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.

Photo by @CVHaction on Twitter

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Time’s Running Out for Congress to Act on Vital Issues

With the end of the legislative session looming, here’s a look at some of the key working family issues still on the congressional agenda.


The Republican shutdown of the government in October cost the economy 120,000 jobs and just under $24 billion. The agreement to end the shutdown funded the government through Jan. 15, but at the sequestration levels that have strangled job growth and slowed the economy, and included a debt ceiling increase through Feb. 7.

The deal also called for a House–Senate budget conference committee to try to reach a longer term budget agreement by Dec. 13. House Republicans are continuing their demands to cut Social security, Medicare and Medicaid, along with tax breaks for corporations.

The AFL-CIO is calling for the repeal of the sequester, which could create nearly 800,000 jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Also lawmakers must oppose any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits, including means-testing or reducing annual cost-of-living increases by moving to the so-called “chained CPI.” Social Security benefits should be improved, not cut; working people and retirees need more economic security, not less.

Instead of further austerity measures, Congress should invest in jobs and education by raising revenue from Wall Street and the wealthiest 1%. Repealing tax subsidies for sending jobs overseas, for example, would generate $583 billion over 10 years.

Immigration Reform

In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship. In October, a House bill (H.R. 15) modeled on the Senate measure was introduced with Republican co-sponsors. Congressional observers believe there are at least two dozen other Republican legislators who would support the bill if it came to a vote.

But this week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) broke his promise to hold a House vote on immigration reform legislation. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Boehner’s action “unconscionable” and said:

The AFL-CIO will not give up this fight until comprehensive immigration reform is passed in the Congress. If Boehner’s House Republicans continue to block the way, we intend to make it clear that the Republican Party will pay a price at the ballot box for ignoring America’s growing immigrant community.

Workplace Discrimination

Earlier this month, the Senate overwhelmingly passed (64–32) the historic Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA). The bill would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, 29 states allow workers to be fired for being gay and 33 allow workers to be fired for being transgender.

But even though the Senate version passed with bipartisan support and the House ENDA bill includes Republican co-sponsors, Boehner again caved to the extremist tea party wing and said he would not allow a vote on the bill.

Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday, the Senate is expected to take up a bill (S. 460) to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years and index it to inflation. It also would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which is currently $2.13 per hour, to 70% of the regular minimum wage.

Among workers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase, 88% are adults older than 20; 55% percent are women; and their earnings account for half of their family’s entire income.

Even though 80% percent of the public, including 62% of Republican voters, support increasing the minimum wage, according to a recent poll conducted by Hart Research, Boehner likely will block any House vote.

Unemployment Insurance

If Congress doesn’t extend the current extended federal unemployment insurance (UI) program by the end of the year, 1.3 million jobless workers will be cut off from UI the week of Dec. 28. Nearly 1.9 million more would lose the extended UI during the first half of 2014 as their state benefits run out. The current program, last extended in January 2013, provides up to 47 weeks of federal benefits in states with the highest unemployment rates on top of the normal 26 weeks that most states provide.

With the economy still 2 million jobs in the hole after the Great Recession and with 37% of the unemployed out of work for more than six months, inaction would be disastrous.

Retirement Security

Last month the House passed a bill (H.R. 2374) that would delay and could ultimately thwart the U.S. Department of Labor’s effort to protect workers’ retirement security. The Labor Department wants to close loopholes and update the rule that protects workers from deceptive or abusive practices when they seek investment advice about their retirement savings.

In a letter to House members, AFL-CIO Government Affairs Director William Samuel says, “The intent behind this bill is to delay the commission rule and thereby also block [the Labor Department] from carrying out its statutorily required responsibilities.” He adds:

This bill affects all workers who are trying to save for their retirement. The primary way most working people invest in the capital markets is with their retirement savings—frequently their biggest financial asset. They are counting on making the most of their money when they seek investment advice; they are counting on that advice being free from conflicts of interest. That is what is at stake here.

So far the bill has no Senate sponsor.


Earlier this year with Senate Democrats on the verge of changing Senate rules to block filibusters on executive branch nominees, Senate Republicans relented on their obstruction tactics that have blocked votes on several of President Barack Obama’s nominees.

But after eight Republicans crossed party lines to end a filibuster against Richard Griffin, the former National Labor Relations Board member nominated by Obama to serve as the NLRB’s general counsel, the nomination process once again ground to a halt.

On Oct. 31, Republicans blocked an up or down vote on Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), the first African American to be nominated to chair the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Watt is also the first sitting member of Congress to be rejected by the Senate since 1843.

Republicans also have vowed to block all three of President Obama’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. On Oct. 31, Republicans prevented an up or down vote on the nomination of Patricia Millett, and on Nov. 12, they voted to continue the filibuster against the nomination of Nina Pillard. Republican leadership is also expected to block the nomination of the third Obama nominee, Robert Wilkins, who is currently sitting on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The District of Columbia Circuit is considered the most important court beneath the U.S. Supreme Court because most cases dealing with federal regulations and federal enforcement agencies can be appealed there, including decisions and regulations issued by the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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