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Mr. SHELBY. Mr. President, I rise to speak regarding the Agriculture-CJS-THUD Appropriations Conference Report that the Senate will be voting on today. I was the only conferee not to sign this conference report and I regret to say that I have serious concerns with provisions in this bill.
The conference report contains language that will raise the loan limits for FHA to over $729,000. I strongly oppose this language for three reasons. First, this change means that FHA, along with the GSEs will continue to crowd out the private sector. The government currently accounts for 96 percent of mortgage-backed security issuance in this country. We desperately need private sector investment to return so that we can finally achieve sustained growth in the housing market. Second, raising the loan limits for only FHA puts further pressure on the FHA and the taxpayer. Just this week, we learned that there is nearly a 50 percent chance the taxpayers will need to bail out the FHA. Increasing the loan limit only increases the risk that the taxpayer will have to bail out FHA. Finally, this will cause the American taxpayer to subsidize homes for wealthy buyers. Helping affluent people buy homes worth over three quarters of a million dollars is directly at odds with FHA's mission to develop affordable housing.
It is a shame that this bill contains these ill-advised provisions, as there is so much worthwhile contained elsewhere within the text. I particularly want to commend Chairman Inouye and Vice Chairman Cochran, and CJS Subcommittee Chair Mikulski and Ranking Member Hutchison, for the great work they did in supporting the Space Launch System, SLS, NASA's heavy lift rocket. The bill we will vote on this evening provides $1.86 billion to support SLS, $60 million above the President's request. The bill puts us on a path towards regaining our rightful place as the world's lead spacefaring nation. SLS will take us beyond low Earth orbit, where we have been stuck for decades, and once again make the American space program the envy of the world.
It is only as a result of continual pressure from both houses of Congress that the U.S. has not completely forfeited space supremacy to the Russians and the Chinese. The Obama administration's 2009 plan would have abandoned NASA's focus on manned exploration and instead subsidized so-called ``commercial'' space companies to perform endless taxi missions to low Earth orbit. Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan, rightfully called the Obama plan a ``pledge to mediocrity.''
Fortunately, Congress has pushed back hard. Many of my Senate colleagues and I joined to pass authorization and appropriations legislation requiring NASA to develop a 130 metric ton heavy lift vehicle that will take America's next generation of astronauts to the moon and beyond. In countless hearings and private meetings with NASA and the administration we have come to an agreement that the primary purpose of NASA is to expand human frontiers, not serve as a grant administrator for speculative private ventures. Thankfully, after more than 2 years of continual pressure from Congress and the American people, we appear to have achieved a breakthrough. NASA is moving ahead with SLS and this CJS Appropriations bill will ensure that they have the resources to implement the plans the Administrator has laid out.
It is important to note that the recently announced SLS acquisition strategy goes to great lengths to control cost and technical risk. The strategy makes maximum use of existing contracts and flight-tested hardware from the Constellation and Shuttle programs while leaving room for competition where appropriate. Neil Armstrong recently told a House panel: ``Predicting the future is inherently risky, but the proposed Space Launch System includes many proven and reliable components which suggest that its development could be relatively trouble free.''
Mr. President, SLS is a bold and workable plan with strong support in both chambers and both parties. Although I have serious reservations about the overall legislation, I thank my colleagues on the CJS Subcommittee for embracing American leadership and the promise of American ingenuity through their support for SLS.