Republican obstructionism shows no signs of letting up, and a worthy nominee just became its latest victim.
President Obama nominated Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to be director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. But Senate Republicans deprived him of that post through undemocratic means.
Watt became the first sitting member of Congress denied an executive appointment since 1843.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was able to muster only 56 votes, four short of the 60 votes he needed to overcome the filibuster threat that prevented a vote on the floor.
The Federal Finance Housing Agency, which oversees the federal mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has not had a permanent director since August 2009, when the person appointed by President Bush resigned. Since that time, the acting director has been Edward DeMarco, another Bush carryover.
Watt was rejected for both political and ideological reasons. The GOP, in both the House and the Senate, has stuck relentlessly to its mantra to make Obama's tenure a failure -- no matter the cost to the country or the people who live in it. Refusing to allow him the prerogative to put his nominees in place is one manifestation of the plan.
With Watt, however, there was the added incentive of opposing someone who wants to reform the work of the agency and implement the president's desire to provide more relief for stressed homeowners.
Watt made it clear that if he were confirmed to the position, he would use the office to push for reductions of the principle owed by homeowners who are underwater (homeowners owing more than the value of their home or behind in their mortgage payments).
DeMarco and his Republican supporters in Congress vehemently oppose any effort to bring relief to homeowners. Industry experts estimate that nearly 14 million homes need relief. DeMarco's pro-industry stance has been so extreme that an unprecedented nine state attorneys general have called for his ouster, as well as 45 members of Congress or so.
Republicans charged that Watt lacks the "technical" skills required for the position. But this is baseless. Watt is a 21-year veteran of the House Financial Services Committee and has received support from the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders.
It's not about Watt's qualifications. It's about using his nomination to get at Obama. That's why conservative pressure groups, such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, threatened lawmakers who could possibly have supported Watt's nomination.
This is just the latest abuse by Republicans of the filibuster on Obama's nominees. The filibuster is not included in the U.S. Constitution in any shape or form.
Reid has intimated in the past that GOP abuse of the filibuster would lead to major reform or abolishment of the practice of needing 60 votes for nominees for the executive branch.
It is time to make good on that promise, not only for Watt and Obama but also for the proper functioning of our democracy.
Clarence Lusane is the director of the comparative and regional studies program at the School of International Service at American University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Clarence Lusane.
Photo: Flickr user Senate Democrats, creative commons licensed.