07/15/2013 12:56 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

Will Senator Kirk Stand With Illinois Consumers?

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois has the opportunity to usher in sound leadership at regulatory agencies that make crucial decisions about Americans' financial lives. The U.S. Senate is expected to hold votes this month to confirm leaders of critical agencies that govern access to the American dream of home ownership.

Disappointingly, Senator Kirk's response thus far has been to vote against well-qualified candidates. It's high time for him to stand with Illinois consumers and stop the obstructionism.

Richard Cordray is the current director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). He received his post through a recess appointment, was re-nominated by President Obama, and is up for Senate confirmation. Cordray has won the praise of bankers as well as consumer advocates, Republicans as well as Democrats. "I think you have done a wonderful job so far in carrying out your duties," Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told Cordray at a recent Senate hearing. In his work on behalf of home owners and home buyers, Cordray has required lenders to provide free copies of all appraisals; protected military families against illegal foreclosures; and implemented a new law that will help rein in prepayment penalties, teaser interest rates, and other tricky loan features associated with high foreclosure rates across the country.

Senator Kirk voted against allowing a floor vote on Cordray and signed a letter with 42 Republicans vowing to block any nominee, no matter how qualified, unless the CFPB is substantially weakened. That isn't right.

Senator Kirk's stubborn opposition to Director Cordray raises concerns about his position on another crucial nominee. President Obama recently nominated Congressman Mel Watt of North Carolina as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).
The FHFA is a powerful agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which control more than half the mortgage market in this country.

Since the housing market cratered in 2008, more than 330,000 homes have entered foreclosure in the Chicago area. One-third of the homeowners in the Chicago region remain underwater (they owe more than their home is now worth), while homeowners in communities of color are more than twice as likely to be underwater as homeowners in white communities. Nationally, more than 10.4 million homeowners remain underwater.

The current acting director of FHFA has failed to adopt policies that could prevent further destruction from the foreclosure crisis. We need leaders with fresh ideas, like Congressman Mel Watt. Watt has been endorsed by consumer advocates, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, and industry representatives, such as the National Association of Realtors and National Association of Home Builders.

Watt demonstrated at his nomination hearing that he is eminently qualified to be the director of the FHFA. He has more than four decades of experience working on housing issues as a high-ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee and as a small business and real estate lawyer.

Watt is someone who can work with the industry to get more private investment back in the housing market and will protect taxpayers instead of playing politics with homeowners.

Senator Kirk hasn't publicly stated his position on Watt's nomination. We hope he listens to the diverse chorus of voices supporting Watt and votes for his confirmation when it comes before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, July 16.

The upcoming Senate votes will have enormous implications for economic opportunity in Illinois and across the country. Senator Kirk must stand with Illinois consumers and vote to confirm Richard Cordray and Mel Watt.

We'll be watching Senator Kirk's votes closely.

This post was coauthored by Rev. Marilyn Pagán-Banks, President of IIRON.