The Senate has confirmed President Bush's new housing secretary, elevating Small Business Administration Administrator Steven Preston to be the administration's point man on the slumping housing market and subprime lending crisis.

Preston is likely to be lead negotiator as Congress and the White House work on legislation to allow the Federal Housing Administration to insure up to $300 billion in refinanced mortgages, including many in which the mortgages exceed the value of their homes.

In a statement Thursday, President Bush said Preston's understanding of financial markets and his management skills qualifies him to assume the post. "He will aggressively work to ensure that the department remains focused on its mission of making housing more affordable and helping Americans keep their homes," Bush said.

The confirmation of Preston to head the Housing and Urban Development Department, by unanimous voice vote, came as the Senate approved a host of other nominations. An unrelated spat between Senate Democrats and Republicans had scuttled efforts to approve Preston before the Senate's Memorial Day break.

Before heading the SBA, Preston was an executive at ServiceMaster Co., a network of more than 5,000 home care businesses.

"The president is asking me to take this job because he wants someone to come in and be a good adviser and a good partner to Congress, as well as an important voice in the administration," Preston told lawmakers last month at a hearing on his nomination.