Senate Makes Historic
Filibuster Rule Change
On November 21, 2013, the Senate made a historic change to the filibuster rule that paves the way for Representative Mel Watt’s (D-NC) confirmation as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the potential to finally implement the National Housing Trust Fund.
In a historic move, the Senate now allows a simple majority of Senators to attain cloture and block filibusters on all executive and judicial nominations, except for Supreme Court nominees. This replaces the long-standing requirement of needing a 60-vote “supermajority” of Senators to do so. (The new rule does not apply to legislation.)
Just three weeks ago, on October 31, 2013, Senate filibuster rules allowed a minority of Senators to block Mr. Watt’s confirmation. With new rules in place, the Senate could approve Mr. Watt to lead FHFA as early as the week of December 9, 2013.
FHFA is the regulator of the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 that established the NHTF requires that the GSEs direct revenue to the NHTF based on their level of business. The Director of the FHFA temporarily suspended this requirement when the GSEs were taken into conservatorship in 2008. Since the GSEs have reported record profits in 2012 and 2013, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) contends that the transfer of the required funds should begin immediately.
Mr. Watt’s leadership at FHFA provides hope that the NHTF will be funded in the near term.
“With Mr. Watt at FHFA, I am confident that the law will be followed and hopeful that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will start to meet their obligation to contribute to the National Housing Trust Fund,” said NLIHC President and CEO Sheila Crowley in a statement released upon Mr. Watt’s nomination to head FHFA.
Also, this last week before Thanksgiving recess, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, lead by Chair Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID), also made progress on its consideration of housing finance reform issues, holding hearings on the powers and structure of a strong regulator, and on the fundamentals of transferring credit risk in a future housing finance system. With several legislative days before them in December, the Committee is expected to complete its series of hearings on housing finance reform this year.