fresh voices from the front lines of change







The Senate’s role in presidential nominations is usually described as “advise and consent,” not “obstruct and prevent.” And yet, continuing their extreme break with past Senatorial traditions and practice, Senate Republicans rejected another Presidential nomination on Thursday. Even so-called “moderate” Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine turned their back on civility and good government by refusing to break a filibuster against Rep. Mel Watt's nomination to head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The President has chosen Rep. Watt to replace Bush appointee Edward DeMarco at the FHFA, and Republicans are refusing to even allow a vote on his nomination. The FHFA is responsible for lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the government was forced to bail out after the privatization of these enterprises turned out to be a disaster. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Republicans are afraid that Rep. Watt might “take more aggressive steps to help the housing market, such as reducing principal on mortgages.”

That would cut into Wall Street’s profits. As the old saying goes: Follow the money.

There’s no disputing the fact that Barack Obama won the Presidency twice and is currently in his fifth year of Oval Office occupancy.  He can hardly be accused of being in an unseemly rush if, after all this time, he prefers to have his own appointee rather than his predecessor’s serving in a position of financial significance.

Watt's appointment, like a number of others, is being held up because the Republican Party is refusing to accept the outcome of two national elections.

There was a time when comity between the parties ensured a smoother nomination process if the nominee came from either the House or the Senate, and was therefore personally known to the colleagues responsible for his or her confirmation. Washington old-timers will even remember the outpouring of warmth which greeted the nomination of Rep. Gerald Ford to replace disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew. And since that appointment came from President Richard Nixon, who was facing impeachment and removal from office at the time, the warmth can’t be attributed to the innocence of a bygone era. It can be attributed solely to the extremism and cynicism of today’s Republican Party.

As USA Today reports, Watt is the first sitting lawmaker to have his nomination filibustered in more than 150 years.

Some of us have criticized the Administration’s past efforts on behalf of homeowners. And there’s some controversy about the scope of the FHFA’s ability to influence the fate of America’s homeowners. But there’s no question that the wrong person in this job can wreak havoc. DeMarco did it just last week when he apparently undermined government negotiators by cutting a separate – and rather cushy – deal with mega-bank JPMorgan Chase.

The President’s critics on the right, as well as the left, are less able to hold him accountable if he’s not even allowed to choose his own team members.

We can’t discount the possibility that race is a factor in this particular case. Rep. Watt, like the President himself, is African-American. But, bigotry aside, it’s still true that when it comes to Washington policymaking, “money makes the world go around.” These Senators are doing Wall Street’s bidding, as was made abundantly clear by DeMarco’s JPMorgan Chase deal. He’s somebody the bankers feel they can work with, and these Senators are protecting his – er, seat.

So what’s next?

Some organizations are mobilizing in support of the Watts nomination. The Chicago-based Woodstock Institute, which supports financial and economic reform, has organized a petition urging Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk – one of the obstructionists – to allow the nomination to come to a vote.  American Family Voices has created a video on the subject and is also encouraging people to contact their Senators, as founder Mike Lux explains.

Harry Reid says he’s going to try again to get Mel Watt confirmed. Let’s hope he does. The American people should see the Republican Party in action, doing the only thing it seems to be able to do nowadays: blocking or impeding anyone who might help the victims of runaway Wall Street greed.

It doesn't seem to bother these Republican senators that they're violating all the norms of good governance in the process.

But then, why should it? If you don’t believe in government, what do you care whether it’s good or not? Perhaps Harry Reid should keep bringing this nomination up for a vote, day after day, until the American people come to realize what the Republican Party is really doing – not for them, but to them.


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