Misguided Coburn amendment barely loses

by Stephen J. Wallace on Oct 26, 2011

This article is reprinted with the permission of Nixon Peabody LLP

In the early morning hours of Friday, October 21, the Senate in their consideration of the so-called minibus legislation (which includes the fiscal year 2012 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations, Agriculture Appropriations and other measures) voted on an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would end rental subsidies to “slumlords.” The amendment failed 59–40 with Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) not voting. Under Senate procedures, this amendment required 60 votes to pass. This was a good thing.

Although seemingly targeting “slumlords” receiving federal rental subsidies, the amendment would have terminated rental subsidies for any owner of federally insured or assisted housing who was cited for a “life threatening condition” (which as we know can mean as little as missing batteries from a smoke detector) within the past 5 years.

In his floor statement, Senator Coburn referenced scandals, wasted federal dollars, and criminal activities—all from public reporting, i.e., television, newspapers—at public housing projects, not privately owned affordable housing, as support for his amendment. Although the amendment was mainly supported by Republicans, a few Democrats did vote for it.

Unfortunately, there will be more discussion in the Senate next week about similar amendments. Coburn Amendment 795, under consideration, would cancel funding for projects facing construction delays, and Coburn Amendment 800 would seek to reduce the Rural Development budget by $1 billion, or more than a quarter of its current funding by some measures.

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