North Carolina Democratic Congressman Melvin Watt has a dream job: running a federal agency that controls around $5 trillion in financial assets. For now, he'll have to keep dreaming about it. On October 31, the Senate, by a 57-41 margin, fell three votes shy of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture (i.e., end debate) over President Obama's nomination of Watt as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which for over five years has been conservator for mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Republicans, with two exceptions, voted to filibuster, believing he wasn't qualified to run the agency. Yet the main problem with Watt is less his qualifications than his view that FHFA should be a permanent agency, and one with favoritism toward nonwhites.
Membership in the United Auto Workers has declined dramatically these past few decades. But its officials at last may have found a way to recapture the glory days: Team up with the Germans. Last month, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., alleged that an activist board member of Volkswagen Group forced the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker to disclose that it was negotiating with the UAW to unionize its Chattanooga assembly plant. This factory, like other foreign-owned plants in the South, is nonunion. The powerful German union, IG Metall, and VW management are backing the UAW's campaign to change that. The UAW recently announced that a majority of workers there had signed cards indicating their desire to join.
All too often, maintaining an enterprise, especially a new one, depends on knowing the right people in government from whom to acquire favors. Such an arrangement has come to be known as "cronyism." And it justifiably has its critics. Among them are Randall Holcombe and Andrea Castillo, authors of a brief, but potent and timely new book, "Liberalism and Cronyism: Two Rival Political and Economic Systems," published by the Mercatus Center, a think tank affiliated with George Mason University. Holcombe, a Florida State University economics professor, and Castillo, a Mercatus associate, view cronyism as the antithesis of liberalism.
The National Labor Relations Board now will have something it hasn't had in a decade: five full-term members. Just one hour ago, the full Senate approved all five nominees to the board following a deal two weeks ago to break a logjam over two recess appointments. And it's Republicans who appear to have been taken. On July 16, President Obama had named Democrats Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa to slots vacated by Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, the result of a federal appeals court ruling this past January. Schiffer until last year served as AFL-CIO associate general counsel; Hirozawa is chief counsel to current NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce.
The acquittal by a six-member Florida jury on July 13 in the trial of George Zimmerman for second-degree murder, with an option to convict for manslaughter, at least among rational people, produced relief and apprehension - relief because Zimmerman wouldn't be headed to state prison; apprehension because the verdict likely would be a prelude to a federal probe. The latter is now underway. Attorney General Eric Holder, with the tacit approval of President Obama, has launched a campaign to delegitimize and overturn the verdict on the belief that Zimmerman, a mixed-race Hispanic and a Neighborhood Watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., wantonly shot a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, to death, and with racial intent.
The National Labor Relations Board, strictly speaking, should have shut down nearly five months ago. But it has kept on going anyway. And even if President Obama's slate of five nominees takes office, the issues surrounding its legal limbo almost certainly will continue onward to the Supreme Court. On May 22, the Senate Labor Committee approved all five and sent their names in one package for a full floor Senate vote. In February the president had re-nominated two members, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, both of whose recess appointments were declared unconstitutional on January 25 by a federal appeals court.
It may turn out to be a very expensive mistake. On May 1, President Obama nominated 11-term Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C. (in photo), to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, established in July 2008 to oversee troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Watt has a history of making racially-charged statements that are way over the line, even by debased "civil rights" standards. The two federally-chartered, publicly-traded companies, operating under government conservatorship for almost as long as FHFA has been around, own or guarantee well over $5 trillion in home mortgages.
The housing market has been on a roll this past year. Prices are rising; vacancy rates are falling; and homeowners are spending small fortunes on upgrading properties. In this context, a White House initiative, the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, launched in 2009 to reduce mortgage payments for millions of owners at risk of foreclosure, appears downright irrelevant. But Obama Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced this morning that his boss will extend the program for two years beyond its scheduled December 31, 2013 expiration date for new applicants.
College loan debt has become a red-flag issue rivaling that of home mortgage debt a half-decade ago. Ironically, the White House, like Congress, in the haste to avert disaster, might create it. President Obama's Fiscal Year 2014 budget includes a plan to expand participation in the Income-Based Repayment program, which is designed to assist eligible persons going through a partial financial hardship to stay current on federal student loans. At present, the program forgives outstanding debt for borrowers who make 20 years of timely payments - 10 years if they work in the public or nonprofit sector. But eligibility is limited to borrowers approved since October 2007. The Obama plan would extend forgiveness to those who took out loans before that. And it would render debt tax-exempt. It's a sweet deal - except to taxpayers.
Nobody doubts for an instant that rebuilding the New Jersey coastline in the wake of Hurricane Sandy will be costly. But a little over two weeks ago Republican Governor Chris Christie took a step that should make it a good deal less so. On April 15, Christie vetoed a union-backed bill passed this winter by the legislature to expand the range of state-contracted construction requiring Project Labor Agreement (PLAs). Such agreements, drawn up between state/local governments and unions, require contractors to pay union-scale wages and benefits on large-scale public works projects. Unions love them because they effectively remove nonunion companies from competitive bidding. The general public doesn't make out as well.