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Mel Watt wins coveted confirmation to head housing agency

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Today the Senate confirmed the nomination of Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). In a 57-41 vote, Watt cleared a hurdle that just several weeks ago Republican Senator’s swore would not happen.

“He is a good man up for the wrong job,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said.

“I get the impression that the nomination is in difficulty,” McCain (R-AZ) said.

The initial vote was 56 – 42 and Watt came up short by four votes. However just two weeks ago Speaker of the Senate Harry Reid warned those in opposition he would call for the “nuclear option” if they continued to block qualified nominees or stall candidates waiting for confirmation. The Senate rules had called for 60 votes necessary for confirmations. This was known as a Super Majority. The nuclear option would revert to a Simple Majority or 51 votes.

The Obama administration was persistent in getting Watt confirmed because the housing industry is an important component in the overall economy. The administration felt that many housing initiatives were thwarted or otherwise stalled because the previous director, Edward De Marco was stubborn or too conservative in his approach to lead the housing giant in rebuilding the economy. Watt’s biggest challenge will be tacking the issue of mortgage write-downs or dealing with homeowners who owe more than their property is worth. The current sentiment is to keep homeowners in their homes versus allowing them to go into foreclosure because they feel there is no remedy to motivate them to stay.

"I believe that while the worst of the crisis is over, we still have many issues to overcome," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), a longtime colleague of Watt.

Homeowner advocates praised Watt's nomination as someone who might apply a common sense approach in dealing with rebuilding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or providing an option to insure homeowners have access to affordable mortgage programs.

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