NEW DIRECTION FOR ENERGY INDEPENDENCE, NATIONAL SECURITY, AND CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT AND THE RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY CONSERVATION TAX ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - April 09, 2008)
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Mr. COBURN. I thank the chairman. I understand they desire no further votes on this amendment.
I ask to speak on the subject matter of my amendment, knowing that it will not get a vote--which is disturbing on such an issue as the one we have in front of us.
We are talking about housing. For years we have spent a tremendous amount of money on homelessness in this country. What this amendment would do, frankly, is help us know what to do on homelessness. It would cause us to take an in-depth look at our current state of homelessness in hopes of providing constructive solutions to that problem.
We have spent billions of dollars every year for Federal housing programs, but homelessness rates have remained constant for decades. In other words, it doesn't matter how much money we have spent, we have not seen a decline in homelessness. We ought to be about asking the question: What is wrong? We continue to spend more money. Yet we make no impact on the rate of homelessness.
A number of reviews have found Federal housing programs are ineffective and misspend too much money on nonhousing assistance, are not sufficiently allocated or distributed, and are subject to tens of millions of dollars of waste and fraud. The waste and fraud actually has been documented. HUD's ability to effectively carry out its mission is so impaired that these shortcomings should be addressed if we ever hope to eliminate homelessness in our country.
In the past year alone the inspector general of the department found nearly $1 billion--let me restate that--one thousand million dollars in waste in HUD alone. That is their own inspector general. There is nothing in this bill that addresses this issue.
This amendment was designed for us to look at that. HUD also reported $1.5 billion, of which over 80 percent were overpayments in terms of improper payments.
The charge on the Congress is to manage the programs effectively. We have a bill before us, and we have an amendment that will help us do that. To me, it is disconcerting in the fact that we are not going to even take up and look at $2.25 billion worth of waste every year.
I have sympathies with the chairman and his ranking member in that they do not want other amendment votes. But this is an amendment we are going to see again. We are going to see it on an appropriations bill the next time we have one with anything to do with housing.
Here are the following criminal activities found at the Department of Housing and Urban Development: 2,684 arrests with the fraud, 1,338 indictments, and 1,055 convictions.
We are going to pass a housing bill, and we are not going to address these issues? We are not even going to vote on them, even though we have 1,055 convictions and 1,338 indictments on fraud and overpayment and corruption within the Department of Housing and Urban Development?
In efforts to remedy the housing problems, Congress has allocated $4 billion to HUD's community development block grants. One of the vehicles HUD uses to combat homelessness is this CDBG program. An OMB analysis determined that the CDBG grants were ineffective in accomplishing what they intended to accomplish.
The conclusion stated that major problems, including the lack of a clear purpose and an annual and long-term outcome measure--in other words, there is no metric to see if the money we are spending is doing any good. There is no requirement on us, either through this bill or any other bill, that there be a measurement to say we will spend money to help homelessness but look to see if that is effective. None of that is available. It is not available. Also, it was noted they did not target funds to the areas of greatest need. They went to the areas of greatest political influence, not the areas of greatest homelessness. And the inability to produce transparent information.
The whole idea behind this amendment would help HUD and Congress address those very issues. It also will help us know what to do about it, if we actually find them.
The average age of the world's democracies is 200 years. That is the average. They are not conquered. They die from within. They die over lose fiscal policy. Those are not my words. That is a paraphrase of the Scottish historian as he looked at the Athenian Empire and wrote about it about the time our country was being founded. I daresay I have great concerns for us as a free country when we will allow $2.25 billion a year to be defrauded out of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and then we will not allow an amendment that doesn't change it. It just says let's look at it and find out where it is and what we can do about it. We are not going to allow it on a housing bill.
It is interesting where we have come. We say we want to help the people who are in the midst of a housing emergency, in the midst of problems with their mortgages, in the midst of those who were either being gamed into a mortgage or stupidly going into a mortgage they couldn't afford, but at the same time we will not do the real work we are asked to do, which is to make sure the programs we do have, that are already authorized, already funded, are run efficiently. It is no wonder confidence in us is lacking.
Here is $2.25 billion that we could address in this bill toward a solution--toward finding out how we at least eliminate 70 or 80 percent of that, and we will not even allow an amendment to address that.
That is not a reflection on the chairman. I understand what he and the ranking member are trying to do to get this bill through. But this is not an amendment to which anybody should have any opposition. This is an amendment that should be accepted; to say, yes, we need to study this. We need to find it. Yet when we have asked for that it has been denied.
My only thought is, either we do not want to look at the fraud and we do not want to look at the overpayments or we think it is just fine.
That is what I am left with and that is what the American people are left with. Mr. President, $2.25 billion would do a lot to help a lot of people having trouble with their mortgages today. That $2.25 billion could come back in and, if directed in the proper way, could significantly increase the effort of holding onto the homes of 100,000 people. Yet we are not going to look at it.
There is no question we need to do more. Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to vote for this bill because we are going to give tax credit to builders who don't need to have a tax credit. We are going to give $4.5 billion more in CDBG block grant money that HUD already said hasn't been spent wisely to begin with. We already have $1 billion worth of fraud in it. I will not support the bill.
I do support the right of the chairman in managing the bill in the way he is managing it at the present time, but I also will say this amendment will be back--as it should--not just for us, and not, as it should, just for the taxpayers but the real taxpayers who are going to pay back this $2.25 billion, which is our kids.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, first of all, I am the individual who has a hold on that bill because I think we need to have real property reform, and there is a bill that is coming out of the Homeland Security Committee that is a bipartisan bill authored by Senator Carper, with the cosponsorship of both Senator Collins and Senator Lieberman, that has real property reform.
As the Senator knows, McKinney-Vento places a limitation on all Federal properties before they can ever be disposed of. So the real property reform needs to go through at the same time the McKinney-Vento bill goes through so that we reform both of those, so that we still protect the rights of the homeless in this country but at the same time enable the agencies of the Federal Government to dispose of them. We now have 22,000 pieces of property the Federal Government does not want but we can't get rid of. So the reason that is being held up is we are trying to get those to move together and in tandem so that we can fix both problems at the same time.
I would say this in response to the Senator. I understand how you have locked arms to move this bill, but what the American people are not going to understand is, if there is $2 billion worth of waste--and there is; the IG of HUD said it, there is no question about it, a billion dollars worth of fraud, a thousand convictions, another $1.2 billion in overpayments to supposed landlords. There is no reason not to fix that right now. It can be fixed with this bill. This bill is going to get passed, it is going to get signed. Move it and fix it.
I yield the floor.
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