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Public Statements

Providing for Consideration of H.R. 1734, Civilian Property Realignment Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. POLIS. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Florida for yielding me the customary 30 minutes, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in opposition to the structured rule. While the unemployment numbers are now at their lowest point in 3 years, the American people know that our economy is still teetering. That's why it's important for Democrats and Republicans to come together around commonsense proposals.

This underlying bill, the Civilian Property Realignment Act, stemmed from President Obama's proposal in his FY 2012 budget, and I'm glad that Congress is beginning its deliberative process on this important issue.

Currently, the Federal Government owns and manages over 1 million Federal buildings and structures--including many in my home State of Colorado--which costs over $20 billion a year annually to operate and maintain. This bill seeks to ensure our government is a better steward of taxpayer dollars by improved utilization and management of surplus properties and the elimination and monetization of unnecessary assets to reduce our deficit.

Building on President Obama's proposal contained in his FY 2012 budget, this bill sets up a process to consolidate, sell, or exchange Federal Government assets it no longer needs. Sounds like common sense, but it hasn't been done yet. As the President identified, an estimated 14,000 buildings and structures are currently designated as excess properties. In essence, this legislation attempts to do with Federal Government property what the Department of Defense has successfully already done with its base closure and realignment program--BRAC--for military installations, an attempt to remove politics from the process so that effectively our Federal holdings can be streamlined and that money can be raised from properties that are no longer necessary for the operations of the Federal Government.

To accomplish this goal, this legislation sets up an independent Civilian Property Realignment Commission, which would recommend which Federal properties should be consolidated, sold, exchanged or redeveloped. The commission's downsizing recommendations would be subject to approval by the President and then by Congress before they could be implemented en masse.

The underlying legislation should be a strong bipartisan bill. Unfortunately, there are a number of last-minute considerations which are causing some contention between the two parties. And I understand that some language has been added, including contentious riders that were added without a hearing or a meeting of the Democratic side.

The current language, therefore, includes some offensive provisions that will jeopardize support on my side of the aisle, including a measure that would change Federal law to eliminate the preference homeless shelters receive, as well as a provision that waives compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, part of the ongoing Republican agenda to gut environmental protections, but in this case, a policy waiver that has nothing to do with trying to manage our Federal property.

The Federal public comment process needs to be in place when assets are transferred because they have important roles in communities. Whether it's urban, suburban, or rural, our comment process is a critical piece of ensuring that all stakeholders are taken into account. If there's a flaw with the NEPA comment process, or NEPA, fix it elsewhere, but not in the context of a bill that's supposed to streamline Federal Government holdings and allow us to sell off excess property.

Another problem with this bill is that the new programs funded under this bill are not funded. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that this bill would cost $68 million over the next 5 years. Now, some on the other side might argue that $68 million isn't much money, but as a matter of principle it should have an offset. This violates the CutGo protocols and is an example of the majority spending money without saying where it's going to come from. So to be clear, this bill in its current form would increase our deficit by $68 million. I think it would be relatively easy, in a bipartisan manner, to figure out where we can find $68 million elsewhere in the budget to offset this so it doesn't go directly to the deficit.

In addition, the rule before us restricts the number of amendments to be considered and limits debate. During the Rules Committee last week, Democrats asked for an open rule so that all Members could offer amendments. A majority on that committee rejected an open process in favor of this restrictive rule.

The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Representative Cummings, offered an amendment to ensure provisions of the Homeless Assistance Act would continue to apply. This was a germane amendment that would be allowed on the floor if this were an open rule, and yet it is blocked by this restrictive process.

That's one example of an amendment that was actually brought to the Rules Committee and dismissed by the majority. But what if this debate inspires a Member to offer other practical, commonsense amendments, including offset ideas to ensure that this doesn't increase our deficit?

Under this process before us, that Member's amendment will not be allowed, no matter how good or how bipartisan or how universal the support is for that amendment. Therefore, I urge a ``no'' vote on the rule.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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