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Senate will reconsider Watt nomination to lead FHFA

By Kathleen Hunter
Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON The U.S. Senate will seek again next week to confirm U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte to lead the federal agency that oversees government-chartered mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, an aide said.

A vote is set for Tuesday on his nomination to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Democratic Senate aide said.

Watt’s nomination failed to advance Oct. 31 when the Senate was unable to win the votes of Republicans, who said the North Carolina Democrat lacked qualifications. Watt is the first sitting member of Congress since 1843 to be denied a major executive-branch post.

Watt has represented a portion of Charlotte and the meandering 12th Congressional District since 1993. If he is confirmed to the FHFA job, a field of candidates is poised to declare for the vacant seat.

Watt, 68, said at the Capitol that he was “insulted” when Republicans questioned his qualifications to head the FHFA “as a rationalization” of their opposition.

“It’s hard to be insulted if you know it’s just politics, but when people start to say, ‘I’m doing this because he’s unqualified,’ then it is insulting and then you start to take it personally,” Watt said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, accused Republicans of blocking Watt’s nomination because they don’t like the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac oversight entity he’d been tapped to head.

The FHFA was put into government conservatorship at the start of the 2008 financial crisis and its future is a subject of intense congressional debate.

Republicans accuse Watt of supporting lower requirements for obtaining a mortgage, which contributed to the need for the government to take over the quasi-government entities. They favor someone with greater experience in housing finance and are happy with acting Director Ed DeMarco, who’s resisted administration efforts to relax tight standards on mortgage lending.

“America needs someone with technical expertise and experience to run Fannie and Freddie’s conservator and ensure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes that led to the last financial crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. “This is the second FHFA nominee that President Obama has sent who did not meet those standards.”

But the Senate voted Nov. 21 to alter its rules to let a simple majority confirm all nominees except Supreme Court justices, ending a 38-year practice by which a single senator could require 60 votes to install presidential picks.

When the Senate returns next week, Watt and others nominated by President Barack Obama to judicial and executive-branch posts could be confirmed by a simple majority.

The administration’s first nominee, then-North Carolina Banking Commissioner Joseph Smith, withdrew his name from consideration in January 2011 after losing support from Republicans.

McClatchy’s Washington bureau contributed.

Hunter: khunter9@bloomberg.net
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