Capitol Update: Drama of House Members Distracts From GOP Agenda

Apartment Industry Colleagues,

If the GOP were a corporation, the public relations department would be exhausted from the month of April. Three of its members in the House of Representatives, Mssrs. McAllister, Grimm and Stockman, were caught on film in a compromising position with a staffer, placed under a federal 20-count indictment and reported to be under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for campaign finance infractions, respectively. Now, it’s unlikely the voting public believes that the actions of these three men are in some way indicative of a larger problem within the Republican Party, despite efforts by some Democrats to paint them that way. While that strategy worked for Democrats in 2006 during the Jack Abramoff debacle, it is much less effective now. Voters know that members of both parties engage in these types of shenanigans and have frankly become desensitized to them.

These events do, however, serve to distract from the larger political narrative the GOP is attempting to emphasize with voters. Instead of getting to talk about the Affordable Care Act or jobs, they have to spend time responding to the drama and showing that they are dealing with the members involved. In this instance party leaders are gently (or not so gently) trying to move “do-badders” out of their seats in Congress. As it happens, Rep. Vance McAllister (La.) has already said he will not run for re-election though Republicans are trying to get to resign now. Rep. Michael Grimm (N.Y.) did step down from his seat on the Financial Services Committee, but has vowed to continue his own re-election campaign as he defends himself in court. Rep. Steve Stockman’s (Texas) situation is the least tenuous of the bunch as the ethics inquiry has just begun and could take many months to complete.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also made news last month for teasing some members of the GOP that they could not handle the difficult legislative issue of immigration reform. The Speaker has said on several occasions that he wants to pass reform, though the Senate-passed measure will not be the starting point. He sees both the policy importance of reform and the political necessity for Republicans to deal with it if they want any chance to be competitive nationally in the future. Unfortunately, his desires bump up against conservatives in the GOP who are squarely opposed to any reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers currently in the country. These same members are worried that the House leadership will attempt to force passage of reform or pieces of reform in other bills. As Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a leading tea party conservative in the House, remarked recently to Politico, “You have to man the watchtowers 24/7.” This does not bode well for reform occurring this year, a priority issue for the apartment industry.

I was hoping to be able to report to you that the Senate Banking Committee successfully reported out a housing finance reform bill in April. Alas, the scheduled markup was postponed in order for the Chairman and Ranking Member to gather more support from their respective sides of the Committee. The bill is almost assured to be passed by the Committee, but the stronger the vote, the better chance of passage by the full Senate. To gather those additional votes, the Committee leaders will have to make some tweaks to the underlying bill (which the apartment industry supports), all the while maintaining the balance in the bill that can appeal to both sides of the aisle. Those members of the Committee who are being courted for their support represent the more conservative and liberal branches of the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. What they require to back the legislation could upset that balance and will have to be carefully considered. Stay tuned for news on developments on this issue and progress in the Senate.

Finally, I want to highlight for you a partial victory achieved at the end of April for our nation’s military personnel and for the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI). The MHPI is a 20-plus year public/private partnership, in which many NAA firms participate, that helps to meet the housing needs of the two-thirds of our military personnel who do not live in on-base housing. The House Armed Services Committee rejected a request by the Department of Defense to cut soldiers’ Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH, the subsidy given to every serviceman and woman to help cover their housing costs. Not only would this have increased out-of-pocket housing expenses for military personnel, it would undermine the funding stability of long-term privatized military housing contracts. That in turn impacts reserves for capital repairs, maintenance and on-site services at these communities. This is not the end of the story as the Senate still has to act; however, the House action is an excellent start. On a related note, members of the NAA Privatized Military Housing Committee were scheduled to come to town in May to lobby Congress on the BAH issue and other concerns. This is a tremendous example of commitment to the industry and to the advocacy process!

Don’t forget to email me and tell me what you think of this column.

Thanks for reading and talk with you next month.   

Greg