OVERNIGHT MONEY: Watt nomination faces hurdle in the Senate

THURSDAY'S BIG STORY:

Weighing Watt: Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), who has been nominated to head up the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), will face his first hurdle on Thursday.

The White House, Democrats and housing industry advocates are urging Senate Republicans to cobble together enough votes to end debate on his nomination and give Watt a shot at overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through what is expected to be several years of gradually winding down their involvement in the mortgage finance market.

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If Watt is able to get the 60 votes needed, he will advance to a final majority vote, where he would likely win confirmation.

But Watt's nomination looked like it would probably stall out, falling just short of the 60 votes needed to end debate. 

Senate Republicans have been less than enthused about installing Watt and replacing acting director Edward DeMarco, who has defied the White House on several housing policy issues, including the push to allow for some mortgage principle reductions, among other policies, that he has said would put taxpayers at risk. 

Fannie and Freddie have received about $188 billion to keep them afloat in the five years since the financial crisis devastated the housing market. But, as of late, they have produced nearly as much in profits.

National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling reiterated on Thursday that Watt's confirmation is "a top economic priority for this White House" and that President Obama would be relentless in pushing him through. 

"I'm still waiting to hear a single good reason for voting against him," Sperling said. 

He called it "unprecedented for a sitting member of Congress to be filibustered" and urged the Senate to end debate and give Watt an up-or-down vote. 

Watt, who has served on the House Financial Services and Judiciary committees for the better part of 20 years, has faced Republican opposition since he was nominated in the spring.

The biggest complaint is that he will kowtow to the White House's demands.

But Watt supporters say he is a consensus-builder who would do whatever is best to prepare Fannie and Freddie to move out of their current role while maintaining a liquid and stabilized market. 

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) criticized Republicans for trying to block Watt because "he is a politician, not a technocrat."

House Financial Services ranking member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said Watt "has the vision and experience necessary to lay the groundwork for its long-term stability."

Minority groups also ramped up pressure on Senate Republicans to confirm Watt.

But those opposing him also came out strong. 

Two conservative groups — the Club for Growth and Heritage Action — said Wednesday that they are key-voting the results, and urged senators to oppose the nomination.

"Congressman Mel Watt is not at issue — the policies he will pursue as head of FHFA are,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. 

Watt's nomination comes to the Senate floor just as the housing finance reform effort is building some steam. 

At the very least, the issue, which is long overdue for a solution, will get some much-needed attention. 

 

WHAT ELSE WE'RE WATCHING

Housing overhaul: The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will chat with housing experts on Thursday about the need to include a government guarantee for mortgages in any housing finance system overhaul. Most industry leaders say the government must ensure that the 30-year-fixed mortgage is still widely available for homeowners even as they seek to remake the system and reduce the federal government's role in market. 

The panel also will consider a couple of nominations; Wanda Felton to become the first vice president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States and Katherine O'Regan to be assistant secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department. 

Focused on investment: President Obama and several members of his Cabinet will speak on Thursday at the SelectUSA investment summit. The meeting has attracted more than 1,000 heads of foreign companies who are interested in looking at the United States as a place to start or expand their businesses. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is heading up the event and will make an announcement with Wal-Mart's Bill Simon, the U.S. president and CEO.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will talk to attendees about U.S. economic performance while Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and the White House's economic team, including National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president, will discuss why foreign companies should choose the United States as part of a broader effort to grow U.S. jobs. 

 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Initial claims: The Labor Department will release its weekly filings for jobless benefits, which have fluctuated in recent weeks as several states, including California, have moved to new computer systems and dispatched with a backlog of filings. 

Challenger job cuts: The Chicago-based firm will release its report on the number of jobs cuts that are planned by U.S. employers in October.

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Farm bill chiefs defend turf

— Deficit was $680 billion in 2013

— Fed stays the monetary policy course

— Crucial moments from budget conference Day 1

— Budget talks open with tax fight

— Budget conference getting wide range of advice

— Lawmakers from both parties urge budget conference to make talks public

— Senate votes to allow Lew to serve on international boards

— House Dems go after White House for tobacco stance in trade talks

— Bank regulators float liquid assets rules

— House votes for bipartisan change to Dodd-Frank on bank swaps

— Poll: Majority say lack of long-term fiscal plan jeopardizes economic growth

— Bipartisan House pair seek to streamline tax breaks for education

—Senate Finance panel leaders call for passage of fast-track authority

— Financial lobby shop adds name to masthead

— Social Security benefits get tiny increase

— Private-sector jobs growth slows to 130,000 in October

— Toomey shoots for short-term budget deal

— Paul makes Yellen hold threat official

— K Street sees tax reform slowly dying

 

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