Mel Watt has 99 problems, but Rep. Robert Pittenger isn’t one of them.
Watt, a Democrat and former congressman from Charlotte, N.C.’s 9th Congressional District, now heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency in Washington. He was the target of blistering tweets a week ago from Pittenger, a Republican and Queen City lawmaker from the 12th District.
It’s not unusual for political partisans to lob insults at each other, but Pittenger’s tweets grabbed attention because they crossed normal decorum, in which personal attacks on fellow Charlotteans are uncommon.
“Washington policies, supported by Mel Watt, helped put people in homes they couldn’t afford to keep,” read one tweet from Pittenger, in a statement that looks past how Wall Street banks drove the no-documentation, interest-only and adjustable-rate mortgages that blew up in the housing market in 2007-2008.
The tweets came as Watt testified before a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee.
In an interview Wednesday with economic reporters atop his offices that look out at the Capitol, Watt shrugged off the harsh comments.
“I don’t have any local politics anymore. I don’t have any national politics anymore,” Watt said in a measured response.
As head of the agency that regulates mortgage-finance titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Watt’s job is to ensure the adequate supply and availability of mortgages for Americans of all income groups. Since taking the job in early 2014, Watt has kept a low profile, seldom weighing in on issues or doing interviews with reporters.
“I made a commitment to FHFA staff that I would not express personal opinions,” explained Watt, adding that he is now data and research-driven and that “I just don’t have any politics anymore.”
Pittenger and fellow Republicans are critical of Watt’s plan to allow Fannie and Freddie to purchase loans from lenders in situations where borrowers have a down payment of only 3 percent. They charge that this amounts to a return to the loose lending standards that preceded a housing-market meltdown in 2008.
In the hearing and again with reporters Wednesday, Watt has countered that there will be a number of safeguards, including higher credit scores and housing counseling, and that no-document loans and adjustable rate mortgages with low initial teaser rates no longer exist.
As for Pittenger’s personal lobs, which went out in real time as Watt testified before the Financial Services Committee on which he long sat, Watt insisted he is not bothered.
“I have no interest in … a public debate or a private debate with Rep. Pittenger,” said Watt. “He’s still a politician. I’m not holding that against him. He’s a personal friend of mine, at least I consider him a friend.”