Sen. Ensign Stalls Consideration of Housing Bill
With the Senate poised to pass badly needed housing stimulus legislation, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) abruptly stopped the bill in its tracks when he insisted on voting on an amendment that would add $8.2 billion in energy tax-break extensions to the package. Ensign’s 11th hour procedural hurdle has kept the Senate from voting on the housing bill until lawmakers return from their July 4th recess.
Prior to Ensign’s action, the Senate completed work on one section of the housing package, approving by an overwhelming 79 to 16 vote a portion of the bill that would modernize the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and reform for government sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.
The bill has been pulled from the floor and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated that the Senate will try again to complete work on the legislation after lawmakers return on July 7 from a week-long break.
Ensign Digs In
Ensign had delayed the bill’s progress for two days, while the Senate leadership objected that the energy provisions would nearly double the cost of the housing package but include no offsetting revenue-raisers. In addition, the energy package was not “housing-related,” breaking an agreement that the only amendments eligible for inclusion would be those specifically related to housing.
When Reid tried to bring up the final package, Ensign blocked it, believing that attaching his energy package to the housing bill was the best way for the energy provisions to be enacted into law.
NAHB worked feverishly to get Ensign to reconsider his stand and to urge Reid to keep the Senate in session until the housing bill passed. Grassroots alerts were launched in Nevada, as well as the states that have Republican senators who are facing tough re-election fights. NAHB also contacted the Nevada governor’s office and spoke with the Nevada Republican House offices.
In addition, NAHB Senior Vice President/Secretary Bob Nielsen, a builder from Reno, Nev., and NAHB Executive Vice President and CEO Jerry Howard went to Ensign’s Capitol Hill office to urge him to reconsider.
Prior to meeting with Ensign, Nielsen was interviewed by Fox Business News and Reuters on his upcoming visit to the Hill and the urgent need to enact stimulus legislation. Howard discussed the same issues in interviews with AP, the Washington Post and Politico.
Unfortunately, Ensign held firm on his position.
A Week-Long Push for the Housing Bill
Earlier in the week, shortly before the Senate began consideration of housing bill H.R. 3221, Howard participated in a press conference with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “We need to pass housing stimulus legislation now to jump-start the economy, save jobs and restore confidence,” he said.
NAHB sent a letter to senators urging them to invoke cloture on H.R. 3221 so that they could move forward to vote on the measure. Because of the importance of this legislation to help alleviate the current housing crisis, NAHB designated a vote in support of cloture as a “key vote.” Senators subsequently approved the motion by a vote of 83 to 9.
In addition, NAHB ran “An Open Letter to Congress” last week in The Washington Post, USA Today, Roll Call and Politico under the headline, “A Time for Leadership.” In the letter, NAHB President Sandy Dunn called on Congress to complete work on the housing stimulus bill before the Fourth of July. “This is not the time for demagoguery or partisanship. It is the time for flexibility and compromise. It is the time for action,” the letter says. A press release was issued touting NAHB’s all-out push to get housing stimulus legislation passed.
The Next Step
With consideration of the housing bill pushed back, NAHB is busy working to identify any other senators who might try to impede enactment of the legislation.
To that end, South Carolina home builders held a conference call last week with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to explain the immediate need for the legislation and to urge him to work for its expeditious passage.
NAHB is continuing to push aggressively to convince Ensign to drop his objection and remains in talks with key Senate leaders about overcoming any procedural hurdles that might arise when the Senate resumes consideration of the bill.
For more information, e-mail Greg Brown at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8421; or contact Scott Meyer, x8144.