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Helping Families Save Their Homes Act Of 2009 - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I am going to spend a minute talking about the Kerry amendment. I am sitting over here listening to him. There is no question he is right on what should happen in terms of notifications on evictions. But we are about to make the same mistake we make all the time. That is a State issue. State laws apply, and we are going to pull that in and make it a Federal issue. Anybody who has any connection with Federal insurance, FHA, anything else, we are now going to start writing the laws on contract law in my State, in his State, and every other State. That is exactly how we got into the trouble we are in today.

I hope the American people will look at how we got where we are. We got where we are because we are putting our nose into States' business. We think we have a nexus, no matter what the problem is, we ought to be solving it, which means why have State legislatures anymore? Why have Governors? Why not solve all the problems?


Now to the amendment at hand. You cannot help but be discouraged about the Congress. We have all these grand ideas and new programs to expand the size and scope of the Federal Government, but we never want to pull it back in when it is not effective and when it is not working. So what do we do? We create a new program or we renew a new authorization, not looking at the facts, not looking at the downside consequences of it. What we do is just reauthorize it with a good goal in mind.

Helping homeless people is great for us to do. The McKinney-Vento Act in the past has made a great contribution to 250 homeless shelters in this country. But nobody pays attention to the fact that we spent $300 million and went through 30,000 properties to fund 250 homeless shelters.

The other thing that is not recognized is that we have all these pieces of property we cannot get rid of. It is actually 69,850 properties that the Federal Government owns that it is not using. Some of them need to be razed, but they are costing us billions every year to maintain because we have a bureaucracy that we cannot get through to sell the property.

We have $89 billion of cash sitting there right now--right now, $89 billion. That is conservative appraisal values today on properties. We could put that money into the Federal Treasury. That is $89 billion we would not borrow against our grandchildren if, in fact, we had a commonsense, cogent way to dispose of excess Federal properties.

All this amendment does is say let's create a pilot program for 5 years. Let's offset anything 100,000 square feet or less. Anything bigger let's go around it. We are not going to have 100,000-square-foot homeless shelters. And let's incentivize the agencies to get rid of their property by leaving 20 percent of the money they would get from selling those properties in the agency.

The GAO says one of our biggest at-risk programs is our real property management. Peter Orszag testified in his hearings on confirmation that it is a giant problem. So now we come up with an amendment that is common sense. It is a pilot project. All it does is say let's test it on a limited number of properties for 5 years and see if we can't move some of this property, can't lower the cost of Government for the American people, and let's do it in a way that is smart.

We have over 10,000 properties that need to be razed, need to be torn down, that we are expending tons of money to guard or protect or to maintain in a small fashion that is absolutely wasteful. Yet this body does not want to do that. It does not want to approach a commonsense program.

This does not do anything to homeless people. This does not take any opportunities away from them. There is a very set guideline in here on how they get to perform against the properties under the pilot project. But we are going to claim--because the homeless groups that support McKinney-Vento are not happy with it, we are going to claim we cannot do anything. So we are not going to accept this amendment. They are going to raise a point of order because it costs $20 million. But when CBO scored it, they did not count any of the funds coming from the properties.

It is a net gain of billions, and we are going to get a point of order. Why? Because we would rather satisfy completely an interest group than do what is best for the country as a whole. We would rather spend more money than save money. We would rather look good in one area than protect the future in the long term.

One cannot read this amendment and not say it doesn't make common sense for us to be doing it. It is absolute common sense. What the American people know, better than we do, is there is not much of that up here; otherwise, we would have solved this problem 4 years ago when I started offering amendments on it. But we don't want to do it. We don't want to take on the established, connected lobbyists and interest groups that say: No, we don't want that to happen.

We had an offer from the House to do five properties over 5 years. That was the offer from the House--5 out of 69,000 properties--69,000 pieces of property the Federal Government has that it wants to get rid of and we cannot do it because we are afraid we might miss one opportunity to put a piece of property in the hands of good people who want to do the right thing for those less fortunate.

Yet we sit here and we deny common sense. If we sold $89 billion worth of properties, compound that interest over what we are borrowing right now over the next 5 years. Think about how that could offset some of our difficulties today. If we just did half of it, what would happen? The first thing the American people would say is, Hey, they are starting to get it. They are starting to understand what we are going through, making priorities.

The risk of missing an opportunity for a homeless shelter versus getting rid of a high-risk problem that this Federal Government has--not denying but maybe missing one opportunity as small compared to how it is going to impact the future homeless people in this country, who are going to be our grandkids who will never be able to afford to buy a home because we are strangling them with debt.

It will be fine to challenge this on a point of order. I will make a motion to waive the point of order. We can have a vote in the Senate about whether we are going to take commonsense actions that actually help our kids and our grandkids at the same time we are helping the homeless or we are going to say: No, we are not going to do anything new. We are not going to do common sense. We are not going to apply what the ordinary man would do with their own money. We are just going to reject it.

The fact that this is not even considered to be accepted in this bill is a
statement about this body that is unbelievable. There is no legitimate complaint with this pilot program. The only complaint is, those who lobby on the other side do not want it or the only complaint is they are afraid we will not get everything we want if you do that.

This Nation needs to learn right now; if we are going to get out of these problems, we are all going to have to sacrifice something. Everybody is going to have to sacrifice.

That means we can't have everything we want. So the very idea that we won't address this issue at this time on housing, when we have a big, large, overburdening problem with real property in the Federal Government, says: What are we thinking about? Why does this not fit within the bounds of what we are supposed to be doing right now? Who are we going to hurt if we create a pilot program to get rid of properties over 100,000 square feet? How much money are we going to save just on maintenance every year? It has to be seen in the light of the whole picture, not just in the light of the homeless. If we fail to do that, we fail to think about the long-term benefits that will come from having common sense in real property reform. We ought to be doing this. We ought to be helping the next two generations.

I am reminded that I did 27 townhall meetings while we were on break. And I will never forget, this guy came up to me and said: I don't care what you do to me, quit hurting my children. Quit hurting my children.

Not accepting this amendment hurts everybody's kids. It is money we could save if we wanted to, but we won't because we don't have the backbone or the courage to do what is the best right thing for the country right now. I have no doubt we will do the politically expedient thing. We won't work on real property. We won't solve this big issue that costs us billions every year just in maintenance costs. We will do the easy thing.

I will have more to say about this as it is challenged on the point of order, and also before the vote, but I hope my colleagues start becoming partisan for our kids, partisan for our children. We can help the homeless and help our kids too. We can help the homeless and create a better future for our kids, but we can't if we won't take a risk. So my challenge to my colleagues is to at least look at the amendment and say: If it was my money, what would I be doing? And the fact is, if it was your money, you wouldn't be sitting on $89 billion worth of property that is costing us billions every year to maintain, that we are not using, and that we can't get through the process to get rid of.

With that, I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. I appreciate Senator Reed's understanding of our effort, but the question arises: We have 69,850 properties. This isn't a big pilot. It only allows 750 properties to be disposed of. Think about that--750. It is barely over 1 percent. It is going to be $800 million to $1 billion, and we are going to block everything--a pilot--because it is too big, too expansive--750 properties out of 69,850. We don't think we ought to attach that now?

We put in extra provisions to make sure the homeless can have these, but most of them aren't good for anything. In fact, most of them will probably be razed. But the fact is, to say we can't do it--we have been saying we can't do it for 4 1/2 years. Can't do it. Can't do it. When can we do it? And 750 properties to look at over a 5-year period is just 150 properties a year. How small does it need to be for us to have a pilot--out of 750, 150 properties a year? A total of 69,850. One hundred fifty, and we can't do that? And because we can't do that, that becomes a symbol for the rest of our failures. We can't sell 750 properties and protect the homeless while we do it and lower some of the burden of the excess real property this Government has. If we can't do that on this bill, a small number of properties, I am wondering what we can do.

It confounds me. It doesn't fit with any sort of common sense. It doesn't fit with any reason. It doesn't fit with any long-term view of how do we get out of the mess we are in. What it fits with is that we don't want to do it because it is hard. We don't want to do it because somebody might yell, somebody might scream. But how do we do the best right thing--not the best thing, the best right thing--for the country? I can tell you that letting another year go by when we have 73,000 properties and $98 billion worth of money and $8 billion a year to maintain it isn't the best right thing.

I am used to standing up and losing, but I am not going to stop putting forward ideas that we shouldn't be rejecting, that make a difference in the outcome for the future of this country. This doesn't have a liberal or conservative slant to it. It is just plain old, good old Oklahoma common sense, good old Connecticut common sense, good old Rhode Island common sense. The fact we would reject it says that our motives have to be somewhat suspect on the reasons we would reject it at this time, especially when we are in the trouble we are in.

It is so discouraging to go home and hear people say, why are you doing what you are doing? Why aren't we fixing this? Why aren't we making the small steps that create a big step that create a yard that create a mile that secures the future?

It is amazing to me that you can have a real objection to this amendment--not 150 properties a year. That isn't going to impact anybody except our kids in the long term, and it is going to impact them positively. But we are going to have a parochial reason why we might not do it? I think that is what I might have heard implied. A parochial protection? We are going to die of parochialism. It is going to kill us. Eighty-plus billion dollars sitting there and we could take and lower the impact of this tremendous downturn and make a difference. Yet we are going to say no.

As they say in Oklahoma--go figure.

Mr. DODD. Will my colleague yield?

Mr. COBURN. I am happy to yield.

Mr. DODD. I understand what my colleague from Rhode Island is talking about, but I must say our colleague from Oklahoma is making a lot of sense. He often does so. Who has jurisdiction over this? Does it depend upon the Federal property, where it is located? Which of the committees?

Mr. COBURN. Homeland Security.

Mr. DODD. People say debates here don't have an effect on anybody. I will make a commitment to you as chairman of the Banking Committee, I will work with you on this.

Mr. COBURN. I appreciate the Senator's offer.

Mr. DODD. I am intrigued by what the Senator is saying. I suspect a lot of other people don't disagree with what he is driving at here. We need to pull some people together to see if we might get something done.

At this late hour of the night I might not be listening to this debate were I not chairing the committee and managing the bill on the floor, but my colleague from Oklahoma I think has raised a very valuable point and it is worthy of our consideration and I would like to sit with him and see if I can't help.

Mr. COBURN. I am happy to take the Senator up on that offer as soon as I lose my amendment.

I yield the floor.


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