Newspaper article Roll Call

Does Obama Care about Housing Pick Mel Watt?

Newspaper article Roll Call

Does Obama Care about Housing Pick Mel Watt?

Article excerpt

One day after bluntly conceding the limits of his congressional suasion, President Barack Obama is picking another potential uphill fight with Congress -- curiously, by choosing one of its own for a top administration job.

The president is nominating Rep. Melvin Watt -- the No. 3 Democrat on House Financial Services in his 21st year as a North Carolina congressman -- to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulator that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Even before the formal announcement Wednesday, some senior Senate Republicans began signaling they will move to block Watt's confirmation. Some view him as having been far too cozy with the government-backed mortgage financers over the years, most dangerously, in their view, during the runup to the housing crash of five years ago.

Others fear that Watt would move quickly to allow the president to carry out a plan to permit "underwater" home owners -- the ones who owe more on their mortgages than the worth of their houses -- to reduce the principal on their mortgages.

"This gives new meaning to the adage that the fox is guarding the hen house," said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the No. 3 Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, where the Watt nomination will first be considered. "The debate around his nomination will illuminate for all Americans why Fannie and Freddie failed so miserably."

How big of a fight Republicans put up against Watt, and how strenuously the president pushes back will be further indicators of how much the balance of power has tipped away from the president as he passes the 100-day mark of his second term. At his news conference Tuesday, Obama seemed to concede that he might not again be able to credibly claim the upper hand in that relationship before the 2014 midterm elections. So he started a new line of criticism against the GOP conservatives who have regularly showed their ability to block him at almost every turn in both the House and Senate. …

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