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Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. LaTOURETTE. I thank the gentleman for reserving the point of order. I think when I'm done consuming my 5 minutes, he will perhaps relent and think that that's a bad idea.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Fund has been a valuable tool all across America in helping to revitalize neighborhoods. I would suggest it has one fatal flaw. There are some homes in every community in America, whether it's Detroit, Los Angeles, Cleveland, where I'm from, where some homes just aren't coming back, and you can't revitalize the neighborhoods until you tear those houses down and start afresh.

One of the difficulties with the Neighborhood Stabilization Fund is it restricts the ability for a local community to use those funds to demolish homes. I will tell you from touring a number of these properties in my good friend Marcia Fudge's district on the east side of Cleveland, these are firetraps, these are rattraps. The last two Cleveland police officers who have been injured in the line of duty have been injured as they entered a dilapidated home. We toured one home in fact where the expression ``everything but the kitchen sink'' didn't apply because people had actually taken the kitchen sink, the toilet, the wiring, the gutters, and all of the copper.

Cities are stepping up all across the country to take care of this problem. In the State of Ohio, our Attorney General has devoted $75 million from the settlement with the top five big banks to this purpose. Mayor Jackson in Cleveland has expended a considerable amount of money. And Ms. Fudge and I have introduced legislation that would authorize bonds through the Department of Treasury to supplement the great work that land banks all across this country are doing.

But because that bill languishes in the Ways and Means Committee, this simple amendment would give increased flexibility to communities that want to take grants that they've received from the Federal Government to stabilize their neighborhoods to give them the opportunity to use them for demolition if they reach the conclusion that in order to protect the neighbors in that neighborhood who are paying their taxes or keeping up their house, who are paying their mortgage but whose property values continue to plummet because they have this eyesore next door, that if the mayor of Cleveland or the mayor of Toledo or the mayor of Los Angeles reaches the conclusion that it's better in that instance to rip that house down and start over and work with the land banks that are popping up all across the country, they do that.

So, Mr. Chairman, I would respectfully ask for passage of this amendment.

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Mr. LaTOURETTE. Mr. Chairman, I thank my great friend from Iowa for those kind words. I know his heart is in the right place, even if his legislative initiatives at this moment are not.

A lot of people don't realize the history of rule XXI. I've had great conversations in the past with the prior Parliamentarians, the last two, Mr. Sullivan and Charlie--I can't remember Charlie's last name. We talked about the notion of equity. We're not only bound by the rules of the House, but just like in courts all across the country, the Chair has the power of equity in his possession.

Rule XXI has its origins in 1844 when John Quincy Adams, the only President of the United States to come back and serve in the House of Representatives, decided that the appropriations process was bogging down and, therefore, we should have rule XXI to prohibit authorizing on appropriations bills. It was designed to keep the appropriators from poaching on the territory of the authorizing committees.

We don't have that here. The chairman of the authorizing committee was just here, Mr. Bachus. He doesn't have any problem with this. The only person who is raising the point of order and has a problem with this is the distinguished subcommittee chair of the Appropriations Committee. So that's my first argument on equity.

Secondly, because I had some spare time today, I also looked at the precedents of the House, and I would suggest to the Chair that this is a matter of first impression. The last time that this came to the attention of the Parliamentarian was in 2006. And, sadly, there is a big problem with getting the Congressional Record online, but we did get the previous one, which was in 1995 when the gentlelady from Missouri at the time, Ms. Danner, whom many of us remember, was attempting to make a provision in order on the Transportation, it wasn't Transportation-HUD at that time, it was the Transportation appropriations bill. And in construing the context of clause 2, rule XXI, the Chair at that time indicated that what she was attempting to do is--we have out of the highway trust fund, 2.8 cents goes to transit. That yields a certain amount of money, and she was attempting to wall off $26 million to go specifically to additional transit projects. The Chair in that instance specifically, and I think correctly, found that you cannot mandate or limit the discretion of the Secretary or another Federal official, nor can you mandate that money be used in a certain way that's not contemplated by the law. As a matter of fact, in section 1057 of the House manual that we all revere here very much, it cites the indications where this has been considered before.

The common theme with all of them is that the person offering the amendment or the Appropriations Committee attempting to implement the policy was attempting to mandate action on the part of a Federal official or mandate that money be spent in a certain way.

I brought up the June 9, 2006, ruling by the Chair, which occurs on page 10673, for those who may be following this at home, and in that instance the offending language was that the statement could not say that not less than a certain sum would be expended on that particular purpose.

This amendment was very carefully crafted. As the Chair, I know being a student of the law and parliamentary procedure, will note that we don't have the words ``not less than,'' it's ``not more than.'' Already the existing legislation, the Dodd-Frank Act, contemplates that States who receive--so there's no change in the Federal appropriation. If the city of Cleveland gets a $100,000 neighborhood stabilization fund, they get to spend it. It doesn't change. There's no Federal involvement after that. It's then up to Mayor Jackson to figure out how to expend it.

This expands the contemplated purpose of that that says a portion is already permitted to be used for demolition. This just says ``not more than.'' It's not a limitation. It just is increased flexibility for the communities that have received these grants. And honest to gosh, you know, with all of the problems that we have around this place, to go back and violate the spirit of John Quincy Adams' understanding of why we needed rule XXI, to prevent State and local communities from having the flexibility to demolish homes where fires are occurring, where people are selling drugs, where people are being murdered, is really beyond me.

So I appeal to the Chair not only based upon the precedents of the House, but upon the inherent authority of the Chair to exercise equity and understand that there might be a ``t'' not crossed or an ``i'' not dotted in this particular instance, but the equitable arguments are on the side of this amendment, and I respectfully ask the Chair to overrule the point of order.

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Mr. LaTOURETTE. Mr. Chairman, I was on the floor about a half an hour ago and went back to my office stunned by the defeat at the hands of Mr. Latham and his point of order and the ruling of the Parliamentarian and the Chair at the time and the interesting comments from my friend from western Ohio, who I trust, after she has the opportunity to meet with Mr. Rokakis and Mr. Kildee in Michigan and Cleveland, will have a different view on whether or not the Neighborhood Stabilization fund, without additional resources to demolish homes, is working well.

When I got back to the office, I turned on the television and I saw--I like a good Republican bashing as much as other folks, but a string of speakers came to the microphone and just bashed the lack of a Republican plan on transportation.

I'm not going to go back to 1844, but I am going to go back to September of 2009, the last bill, SAFETEA-LU, expired in September of 2009. In September of 2009--people who know the answer, you can shout it out--the President of the United States was a Democrat, Barack Obama, who is currently the President today. The majority leader in the United States Senate--shout it out if you know it--was Harry Reid, a Democrat of Nevada. The Speaker of the House was the first woman-elected Speaker in the history of the United States, Nancy Pelosi of California.

The Democratic Party controlled all three levers of the Federal Government. They had in position as the chairman of the Transportation Infrastructure Committee a gentleman who has forgotten more about transportation than most of us will ever learn, Jim Oberstar of Minnesota. Mr. Oberstar prepared a 6-year fully funded, robust Federal transportation 6-year reauthorization. He was not allowed by the leadership within the Democratic Party to bring that bill forward.

So for people to come to the floor and say that Mr. Latham is not doing his job, this negotiation that is going on on the transportation authorization currently is somehow a failure of Republican leadership, I say get up and look in the mirror. You have to take a look at the fact that everybody is responsible for this mess, and everybody knows that you don't fix the Nation's infrastructure unless you provide the necessary resources to fund the trust fund. Both parties are guilty of being absent without leave, but to blame it and to hang it on the Republican Party is worse than nonsense. It completely ignores historical fact.

One other factoid about the President of the United States, President Obama. He has become the first President since Dwight Eisenhower to not send up his vision of a comprehensive transportation reauthorization bill. A lot of people in this House weren't even born when Dwight Eisenhower was the President of the United States, but he became the first President. And our good friend and former colleague, Mr. LaHood, who is the Secretary of Transportation, he would come before the subcommittee year after year after year and had no ideas, no gas tax, no vehicle miles traveled, no idea how we're going to replenish the highway trust fund until this year. Until this year, he came and said: I've got this brainy idea. We're going to fund it with OCO, the overseas contingency account, that the United States has used to support our troops in conflicts around the world.

It was worse than fiction; it was a fantasy. And he knew it, but he delivered it with a straight face. I give him a lot of credit for that. But to come to the floor and attempt to hang this around the Republicans for failing to lead on transportation is laughable. Ours is the party of Teddy Roosevelt and the Panama Canal, Abraham Lincoln and the transcontinental railroad, Dwight Eisenhower and the interstate highway system. Ronald Reagan and George Bush all supported working wages to build our infrastructure.

We will not take a back seat, nor will we be criticized by a party that completely failed in its mandate given to them in the election of 2008 to do a single thing, to employ people in the transportation sector and to move this country forward.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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