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Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, the District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006

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Location: Washington, DC

TRANSPORTATION, TREASURY, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, THE JUDICIARY, THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, AND INDEPENDENT AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006 -- (House of Representatives - June 29, 2005)

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I invite Members to return with me to the thrilling days of the Reverse Houdini. That is what we are seeing today on the floor.

Older Members will remember Harry Houdini who had an act. His act was to have other people tie him in knots and then appear before the public and get out of the knots.

What my Republican colleagues will show you today, as they did in the Labor-HHS bill and other bills, is the Reverse Houdini. Under the Reverse Houdini, you tie yourself in knots. Then you appear before the public and tell them how much you wish you could help them, but you cannot because you are all tied up in knots. You do not mention that you tied the knots.

The gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Knollenberg), in his capacity as chairman of the subcommittee, has done work which I admire and for which I am grateful. He rejected the shortsighted and thoughtless efforts by the administration to gut the CDBG program and to rearrange the section 8 program. And I admire and appreciate what they did. So given the very limited, indeed inadequate, resources with which the gentleman had to work, he did a very good job.

On the other hand, I must say to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Knollenberg) and others on the other side, I admire what you did with inadequate resources, but I do not admire that you are the ones who made the resources inadequate. Members who voted for the tax cuts do not come to the floor with clean hands when they talk about the consequences of the tax cuts.

We will hear today, as we heard on the bill dealing with Labor, Heath and Human Services and Education, laments. The gentleman said he wished he could do more for CDBG. Well, who is stopping him? What is stopping him is the budget he voted for. The budget he voted for was dictated by the tax cuts he voted for.

The President said last night that the war in Iraq will go on and on. He will not waver. No, he will not waver. Funding for all these important programs will waver. A month in the war in Iraq would have been more than enough to make unnecessary all of the apologies we will hear. We will hear the Reverse Houdini again and again and again.

Members of the Committee on Appropriations will come, and they will accurately say that, given the resources they were provided, they cannot adequately fund all of these programs. But we ought to make clear, it is their own decision that led to these inadequate decisions.

In the housing area where I have some involvement and jurisdiction, virtually no program is adequately funded. They did better than the administration would have had them do, and I appreciate that important programs like Youthbuild are going to be resuscitated from having been snuffed out; but we will still have too little in CDBG, the Community Development Block Grant program.

The CDBG is an excellent program, and we are being told, maybe, if we are lucky, we will get it back up to where it has been, in an era of massive tax cuts for the wealthiest and an ongoing war in Iraq. Community development will be going on much better in Mosul and Baghdad than it will be in Pittsburgh and Chicago. I do not mean to deny the needs of people there, but we should not have it come at the expense of people here.

The section 8 program is better, but it will still not be enough. Let us also note that public housing, the entity that houses some of the poorest people in this country, will again not get what it ought to get. I would urge my colleagues, let us stop coming to the floor and apologizing for the consequences of your own actions. Let Harry Houdini rest in peace.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.

Mr. Chairman, last week, we had a rather unpleasant debate on this Floor about what we should be doing vis-a-vis religious conversion. The gentleman from Wisconsin was involved, but once again, he is today dealing with religious conversion, but today, he was welcoming converts. He was welcoming those who for many years have whittled away and chopped away and hacked away at our efforts to help low-income people, and now he has, as he said, found some people who understand it.

Some of us must tell my colleagues, we are a little skeptical. To be told by some of the supporters of this amendment that I and others who have been fighting so hard to prevent these savage cuts in housing for low-income people that we are somehow insensitive to the homeless is like being called silly by the Three Stooges.

The fact is that there has been a sustained attack on everything the Federal Government has tried to do to provide housing, and it is not just in the past.

The Committee on Financial Services, on which I serve, reported out by an overwhelming vote a bill which included a provision which would take some of the profits from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, not tax dollars but profits from corporations which get great Federal advantages, so we felt entitled to do this, and we were following a precedent set years ago with the Federal Home Loan Bank. We said, let us take 5 percent of their after-tax profits and help build houses for homeless people. It would produce an amount five or six times each year what this amendment deals with. You want to help the homeless, you have to try and build them homes.

Well, we have been told by some of the most conservative members of this body that that is a terrible thing, and we have been told that they are going to try and stop the bill from even coming up.

So, if Members want to genuinely help the homeless, there are at least two pending ways to do it. One, cut back on Amtrak. Two, let us take a percentage of the profits from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in a time-tested program, a concept endorsed I understand by Jack Kemp, a former Secretary of HUD, back when the Secretary of HUD was even on the Republican side, cared about housing, and let us go that way. Now, we say, well, but let us take it out of Amtrak.

I wish this concern for the poor had been around when we were doing some earlier bills. As I understand it, we voted a significant amount of money to send people to Mars. We cannot find enough money for the homeless so we have to take it out of Amtrak. Well, would it not have been better to take it out of the trip to Mars? I mean, literally, this Congress voted to start spending, at least this House did, to send people to Mars, and at the same time, we talk about, well, but we have to cut Amtrak to help the homeless. Where was the concern for the homeless when you were going to Mars?

Mr. Chairman, there are many ways to help the homeless. Many of us, in a bipartisan way on the Committee on Financial Services, and I would note that the gentleman from Ohio who just spoke was one of those Republicans on the Committee on Financial Services who voted with us on that proposal for affordable housing. He understands and voted, as did others on that committee from both parties, that there are better ways to do this.

I think, frankly, that we have done enough damage to low-income people. We are now giving true meaning to the phrase, let us add insult to injury; let us use the lowest-income people in this country as a pawn in this effort to dismantle a decent rail system.

I welcome them, as does the gentleman from Wisconsin, this newfound support for the poor. I am available to help people in a far less destructive fashion to let them learn how to do it. I understand, when you are new to something, you are not always good at it. When you are new at helping poor people, it may not come out too good. Some of us who have been trying this for a long time are available for instruction.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.

Mr. Chairman, we agree with the gentleman from Michigan that reducing salaries and expenses would be a mistake, and there has been some confusion that is not the fault of the gentleman from Michigan. There was, as Members on our side talked about various offsets, some lacking at salaries and expenses, but, in fact, it has been changed, and the gentleman had no way to know this. He was not misrepresenting.

But the offset in this is not from salaries and expenses. It is from business systems modernization, a $199 million account for technology. And the gentleman is correct, and we spoke with various other people who represent those who work at HUD. So this is not now a reduction of salaries and expenses. It comes from the account on page 57, line 20, and following, $199 million for internal revenue.

Secondly, I would say this: when Secretary Jackson testified at his hearing before our committee, the Committee on Financial Services, in which the gentleman from Texas now makes a very important contribution from his own experience and awareness of the need here, I told Secretary Jackson I was disappointed to see this reduction from one year to the next. And Secretary Jackson's response, and it is available from the record and we will make it available for anyone who wants it, was that he agreed it would be a good idea to have more money, but he simply had to work within this limited budget. That is, Secretary Jackson did not say this is enough. He said it was not enough. He did not have enough resources.

We do believe the modernization is useful, but not at the expense of a fairly small amount. This is, what, less than 4 percent of the amount for modernization.

The fact is that housing discrimination continues to be a serious problem, and we have had recent hard evidence of that. By mandate of this Congress, we collect something that is known as the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, HMDA data people have heard; and the recent report from banks of the HMDA data shows a prima facie case of discrimination based on race. There may be some explanation for that, and we are going to be looking at that. People have said, well, there are other various reasons. But the fact is that the HMDA data is one indication of that.

I believe this country has made a great deal of progress in doing away with housing discrimination. It was not so long ago in the lifetime of many of us here when the Federal court still enforced racially restrictive covenants which said one could not sell their home to someone who was African American. That was changed less than 60 years ago. We still have racial discrimination. We still have racial discrimination particularly in housing; $24 million, which is what we would have if the gentleman's amendment passes, is hardly excessive for this country of 240-plus million people to deal with a continuing manifestation of what I think is the greatest single domestic problem we face from our inception, which is racial unfairness and racial discrimination.

The enforcement of racial discrimination is complicated. People have become sophisticated. They do not admit that they are discriminating. The need to test, the need to do very sophisticated work is important. People have a right, if they are prosecuted, to various procedural defenses. If we are going to make a good case to prove this, we need the money.

So I would agree with the gentleman from Michigan that it would have been a mistake to take it from salaries and expenses, and this does not do that. I also agree with Secretary Jackson, at least on this one occasion, and I am trying to think of others and they do not come to mind, that it would have been better if we had more money for housing discrimination, given the role that racial discrimination and unfairness have played in this country. The gentleman from Texas, from his own career and his own life, has a very profound understanding of this; and when he came to this Congress, one of the first things he asked those of us who had been on the committee about was can we address this.

And we asked him to take the lead, and he has done that very ably. This is a very well-thought-out, really quite moderate amendment. Adding $7 million out of this $199 million pool, I think, makes a great deal of sense. The money will clearly be well used. Yes, there had been other surveys, but no one familiar with the state of race relations in America thinks we have reached a point where housing discrimination has disappeared. And $24 million in this Nation of 240 million people, what is that, a dime a person? I do not think a dime a person is too much for this country to spend, and I thank the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Hastings) for confirming my arithmetic because I was a little unsure there, but I do not think a dime a person is too much for this country to spend in trying to further combat what has been one of our enduring obstacles towards reaching our constitutional goal.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. I yield to the gentleman from Massachusetts.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for letting me correct myself.

Mr. Chairman, I misread this. Actually, the money comes out of the information system section of the IRS, not the business modernization. That is $1.6 billion, including hiring of passenger motor vehicles. So we are talking about car rentals for the IRS and other accounts. It is $1.6 billion.

Also I have been corrected by the gentleman from New York. The population is now closer to 290 million, so we are really talking about 8.5 cents a person. I would like to be precise. We are taking this out of the $1.6 billion information systems account.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. GARY G. MILLER of California. I yield to the gentleman from Massachusetts.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding.

The gentleman from California has been a very creative leader on this. I just want to agree with what he has had to say. This is very important for all of the older, urban industrial areas. I do not want take time with my own 5 minutes because the gentleman from California has made the case, as will the gentleman from Texas. I just want to express my strong support and appreciation for his leadership on this and on the BEDI issue.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.

Mr. Chairman, I want to begin by acknowledging that the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Knollenberg) did a very good job of dealing with a difficult issue that was dumped in his lap in Section 8, and I acknowledge that. And I think he provided a great deal of comfort to tenants and administrators throughout the country by relieving them of the uncertainty that some proposed very drastic changes were there. And I thank the gentleman for that. And I understand also that he had a difficult situation. I would like to see even more.

The point I would just make is this: From a number of decisions that we have made, Section 8 has become the main housing program of the United States. I wish it were not. I think it is a mistake to have no production. And we have virtually no production. I think we have made the Section 8 program, by default, carry more load than it ought to.

Secretary Jackson talks about what an increasing percentage of the HUD budget Section 8 has become. That is partly because they have cut out everything else. And so what the Section 8 program is, is a survivor. And in an ideal world, we might allocate a little bit more to housing production, et cetera. But that is not where we are. We very much need this money. It is not nearly enough, but we are in a tight budget situation. Some of us wish we were not. Some of us voted not to be in it, but facts are facts.

As to renewals, the gentleman from Michigan may be right that there is enough for renewals. I hope he is. He may not be. But the point is that nothing in this amendment says it is only for renewals. The gentleman from New York pointed out that we have not had any new ones. Does anyone think that all of the people in America who need Section 8 housing now have it, and that we only have to work with renewals?

We had an amendment offered earlier by the gentleman from Minnesota, and I should acknowledge the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Kennedy) voted for that affordable housing program that I talked about, and I should not have implied if anyone thought that he had not. But he talked about a $100 million more for the homeless, taking it out of Amtrak.

If you want to provide $100 million for the homeless, vote for this amendment because, you know what makes you homeless? Not having a home. That is what homelessness means. And one way to deal with the homeless is to get them homes. An additional $100 million in Section 8 is the best, most efficient way to provide homes for the homeless. So we acknowledge that there is an unmet housing need. And as I said again, and I mean this very sincerely. I appreciate the gentleman from Michigan with regard to CDBG and HUD and Section 8 and HUD. He brought some order of a situation that was fraught with confusion for people, and I appreciate his willingness to do this.

We are talking now about a somewhat marginal increase. We wish it could be bigger. But I would say the argument against this on the merits has to be that you think America is now providing housing for everybody who needs it.

I would say to other Members, across party lines, across geographic lines, in past years when there have been threats for shortfalls in Section 8, I know all of us on the Committee on Financial Services that deals with housing have gotten anguished complaints from other Members saying, How can we stop this?

Well, I tell you the best way to stop another wave of threatened shortfalls, people not having enough. Rents can go up. You cannot entirely predict what the needs are going to be. I tell you a very good way to prevent yourself from being again besieged by fears that there will be people turned away, et cetera. Put this money in here now. If it is not needed for renewal, I hope it is not, I cannot be sure it is not, if it is not needed for renewals, then I think we will find in this country $100 million worth of people who need housing. And that is of course what we do.

I would say again, if you were tempted by the homelessness amendment before, taking it out of Amtrak, let us put it here. As far as HUD's administration work is concerned, I think we can probably find some ways to deal with that. But I do not think that we ought to sacrifice HUD's primary goal of providing housing for people to deal with some of the bureaucratic issues. So I hope the amendment is adopted.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, will the gentlewoman yield?

Ms. KILPATRICK of Michigan. I yield to the gentleman from Massachusetts.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding to me, and I just want to express my support for what she is doing. As an authorizing member of the committee, I am very appreciative of what she has done on the appropriations subcommittee, along with my neighbor and ranking member. Well, not quite my neighbor, but my colleague.

And I just wanted to express my support and my hope that the very important issue she is raising now will be worked out satisfactorily.

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