Representative Mel Watt (D., N.C.) embodies the toxic politics that produced the housing bubble. He is a practitioner of a nasty form of racial politics (just before the election of Obama, he proclaimed that white Americans are so besotted with racism that they could not vote for a black candidate) and at the same time is cozy with Wall Street (his largest benefactor is Bank of America, closely followed by Goldman Sachs and bubble beneficiaries such as the National Association of Realtors). He says that his experience living with brown skin supersedes the need for “empirical evidence” so far as matters racial are concerned. But empirical evidence is precisely what is needed at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which Watt has been asked to lead by President Obama. FHFA is the main regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the prime malefactors in the millennial housing bubble, which still hold or guarantee trillions of dollars in mortgage debt. Housing activists and the mortgage industry put a target on the back of FHFA administrator Edward Demarco, who has been in their view insufficiently eager to turn on the Washington money pump and reinflate the housing bubble by imposing write-down losses on Fannie and Freddie, and Watt is their choice to replace him. But the country has no pressing need of another subprime-mortgage explosion, or another practitioner of corrosive racial politics, making Watt precisely the wrong man for the job.
The House passed the Working Families Flexibility Act (with 220 Republican and three Democratic votes), which would allow hourly employees to accept compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay for time worked beyond the standard 40-hour week. Like overtime wages, that comp time would be accrued at a time-and-a-half rate. The bill is likely to founder in the Senate, and President Obama has promised to veto it. It is a welcome nod to 21st-century reality: In the modern information-and-services economy, the rigidity of the old regularly scheduled factory shift has been supplanted by a lumpier labor model, in which factors such as project deadlines and seasonal changes mean that some weeks or months will be busier than others. Under the bill, employers would have the choice to offer comp time, and employees would have the choice to accept it — or not, and the bill contains specific provisions forbidding employers to require its acceptance. Though many workers in these straitened times cherish overtime pay, others, especially those with family responsibilities or those working more than one job, would prefer the comp time. The Democrats who thwart this preference in the name of a 1938 law (the Fair Labor Standards Act) are the very picture of reactionary liberalism.