Defund HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule

Background: On July 8, 2015, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finalized language for a new housing regulation named the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH). This new 377 page rule, first implemented in mid-August of 2015, empowers the Federal government to audit the demographic and socioeconomic status of local communities in order to force state and local governments to enhance diversity among its community makeup.

All local jurisdictions that receive HUD funding, particularly through the Community Development Block Grant program, are subject to this rule and must identify factors and communities assets that contribute to the racial disparities in their communities compared to those at the local and regional level around them. Once this evaluation is complete, localities must develop a plan on how to fix the racial disparities and submit it to HUD for approval.

Problem: AFFH effectively turns HUD into a National Zoning Authority for every locality across the country. Suburban neighbors will have to compare themselves with neighboring cities and essentially rewrite their zoning laws and pay for affordable housing projects and other community development projects to encourage housing diversity and affordability in their communities.

According to department officials, this rule is needed because “increasing a neighborhood’s appeal to families with different income and ethnic profiles can encourage a more diversified population and reduce isolation.” While this may be a goal worth pursuing, local authorities, not unaccountable federal bureaucrats should be making these decisions.

As Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) so plainly puts it, “In other words, this new regulation is designed to give unelected, anonymous bureaucrats in Washington the power to pick and choose who your new next-door neighbor will be. If they don’t believe your neighborhood is “diverse” enough, they will seize control of local zoning decisions—choosing what should be built, where, and who should pay for it—in order to make your neighborhood look more like they want it to.”

Solution: Congress must use its Constitutional power of the purse to defund any implementation of the AFFH rule. The House of Representatives has already passed Rep. Paul Gosar’s (AZ) amendment to defund the AFFH rule and attached it to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2016. The Senate must now take up and pass Sen. Lee’s AFFH defunding amendment to make sure this reaches the President’s desk and is signed into law. Local communities, not bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., should determine the social and economic makeup of their own neighborhoods.

Read More

Fact Sheet: Syrian Refugee Resettlement

In the wake of the November 13 attacks on Paris, there is heightened concern that terrorists connected with ISIS will use the mass movement of refugees and economic migrants in the world to gain access to the United States. The United States currently maintains the most generous refugee program in the world. Typically, the State Department sets a goal of admitting half of the total refugees certified for placement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2013, the United States took 67 percent of all refugees.

The president is currently recommending expanding this already-generous program by increasing admissions of Syrian refugees from 1,500 to 10,000, with a total increase of 45,000 worldwide refugees over the next two years. Given the insufficient screening measures currently in place, conservatives should oppose funding for the administration’s increase in the number of refugees until Congress can pass legislation that guarantees an appropriate congressional role in ensuring stronger screening procedures.

Refugees and Asylees: According to U.S. immigration law, a refugee is a person who is 1) of special humanitarian concern to the United States, 2) fears persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, 3) has not firmly resettled in another country, and 4) is admissible to the United States. A further distinction must be drawn between asylees, who are already in the country in which they are seeking asylum, and refugees, who apply for permanent resettlement from a temporary resettlement location.

Asylum cases are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and there is no cap on the number of asylees that can be admitted to the United States. Refugees are usually out of the country from which they are fleeing, and are temporarily resettled in a short-term refugee camp (such as those in Jordan). This distinction ensures that those who need help the most are able to receive it.

The U.S. is already the number one country of resettlement for refugees in the world, resettling 66,200 of 98,400 total refugees in 2013. Before the beginning of each fiscal year, the President establishes an overall refugee admissions ceiling along with regional allocations. Once settled, refugees and asylees are given expedited access to legal permanent residency (LPR) and are put on a fast track to citizenship (which they can seek after four years as a LPR).

Difficult Vetting Procedures: It is extremely difficult to vet refugees from war-torn areas where there has been a complete breakdown of governmental control and authority. It is even harder in Arabic-speaking regions of the world, because of linguistic and cultural differences. Problems often begin with name identification, which is necessary to establish past history and determine whether members have been imprisoned or affiliated with any insurgency. These difficulties are compounded by how guarded Middle Eastern refugees are concerning motivations, which even the best regional experts have difficulty detecting. There is a history of failed assessments of Middle Eastern refugees, sometimes with grave consequences.

Additionally, many migrants currently entering Europe lack a legitimate claim for asylum. Many are economic migrants, seeking a better life for themselves and their families, but are not in danger of persecution. Many immigrants from poor, but otherwise stable countries, are currently claiming to be fleeing Syria, with a black market in Syrian passports booming. Given a systematic lack of documentation, distinguishing legitimate refuge-seeking from fraud can be difficult.

Due to this lack of documentation and inability to conduct name identification, FBI Director James Comey noted that the bureau does not currently have the ability to conduct thorough background checks on all refugee applicants. In his testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security, he stated “if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them.”

Furthermore, according to Steven Bucci and David Inserra of The Heritage Foundation, there is precedent for screening and background checks to give way to political imperatives in the processing of refugees. According to their backgrounder published in October 2015, “when the Administration implemented its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, it was not prepared for the workload and moved to a ‘lean and lite’ system of background checks, where cases were quickly approved even when lacking information or documents.”

Radicalization: In addition to the threat of radicals slipping through gaps in the system, there is also a threat of radicalization once refugees are present in the United States. The United States is already struggling to prevent the radicalization of current residents by ISIS propaganda, with Minnesota having launched anti-radicalization programs in response to a large number of Somali refugees joining ISIS. The Boston Marathon bombing was perpetrated by asylees who radicalized while present in the United States. According to a November 2014 report by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 13% of Syrian refugees have a view ISIS that is at least “positive to some extent,” with 4% having a “positive” view. Given ISIS’s history of effective propagandizing via social media, it is likely that they will be able to capitalize on some of these predilections.

Call to Action: When crafting refugee policy, the United States must ensure that humanitarianism is balanced by a prudent concern for national security. Congress is currently debating Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R-TX) American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, which contains significant deficiencies. Though it sets up a more stringent vetting system for Syrian refugees, it provides no leverage for Congress to weigh in and only requires that the vetting process be “certified” by the president’s appointees before allowing refugees to continue.  Congress should push for a thorough and transparent vetting process, and should deny funding to the president’s program until such a process is established. The December 11th appropriations deadline provides an opportunity for Congress to use a legislative rider defunding the president’s expansion, after which Congress may work with security experts to pass legislation establishing a screening process and mechanism for lawmakers to affirm the administration is implementing the new process correctly.

Read More

Conservatives Priorities for Omnibus Package

During the last week of October, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. The bill abandoned conservative fiscal policy, choosing instead to suspend our nation’s debt limit until March 2017 (an estimated $1.5 trillion hike) and increase total federal spending by at least $111 billion over the next three years, blowing through the caps established by the Budget Control Act.

With this new spending framework established by the Bipartisan Budget Act, Congress will attempt to pass appropriations legislation to allocate these spending increases by December 11th. Unfortunately, congressional leadership is attempting to bundle 12 pieces of appropriations legislation together into one omnibus spending bill. Conservatives stand opposed to such a package. In addition to using the leverage of the appropriations process to restrain the executive and attain key conservative policy objectives (including provisions defunding Planned Parenthood and executive amnesty), the bill should only appropriate spending within the original budget cap levels.

Spend Within Budget Caps: The framework established by the Bipartisan Budget Act allows for an additional $111 billion is spending. But this framework passed with unified Democratic support, and a minority of Republicans. There is a reason that Congress is under a new leadership team, and appropriations legislation does not need to allocate spending at this heightened level. There is still an opportunity for Congress to exercise restraint and fiscal responsibilities, and only allocating spending at the levels authorized by the original budget caps. Such a policy would communicate to the American people that Congress intends to pursue responsible spending practices.

Defund Planned Parenthood: In July 2015, the Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of undercover videos documenting Planned Parenthood executives haggling over fetal body parts, as well as describing the use of the illegal partial-birth abortion procedure to secure intact organs. These atrocities are currently funded by the government of the United States, which supplied Planned Parenthood with 41% of its total revenue last year ($528 million). This has led Planned Parenthood to become the largest abortion provider in the country, performing over 327,000 abortions last year (1 of every 3 abortions performed in the United States). This all occurred while federal law prevents the use of federal dollars in performing abortions – a provision circumvented by Planned Parenthood’s creative accounting and the fungibility of federal dollars.

A legislative rider defunding Planned Parenthood by name is necessary to effectively shut off federal funds to the organization, as it would both remove Title X funding and prohibit Medicaid funds from being awarded under the “choose your own provider” provision. 151 Republicans voted against a two month continuing resolution that funded Planned Parenthood. Those members need to be encouraged to maintain their positions against a spending bill that funds Planned Parenthood in December.

Defund Executive Amnesty: The clearest example of the president’s overstep of his executive powers through the illegal use of executive orders can be found in his executive amnesty program. It is the responsibility of members of Congress to craft laws governing United States immigration policy, and the role of the executive to implement those laws. By unilaterally implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, and by widely expanding the program in 2014 (DAPA), the president ignored the constitutional separation of powers and took the legislative powers of Congress upon himself.

Twenty-six states filed suit, claiming an abuse of executive power, and the Fifth Circuit upheld an injunction against the program earlier this year. But a leaked memo indicates that the administration is planning on circumventing the court’s injunction and issuing several hundred thousand additional worker visas. In light of this administration’s repeated abuses of executive power, the bill should contain a provision defunding the executive amnesty program.

Refugee Resettlement: The United States currently maintains the most generous refugee program in the world. But the President has proposed expanding this program by increasing the number of refugees to 45,000 by the end of 2016. This influx of refugees presents a series of national security concerns, which the current administration has been negligent in addressing. Due to significant linguistic and cultural differences, lack of documentation, and the opacity of refugees concerning motivations, it is incredibly difficult to effectively screen refugees. This problem is compounded by widespread fraud and a significant risk of refugees being targeted for recruitment by terror groups while present in their country of resettlement. The Obama administration has consistently demonstrated its unwillingness to establish systems for effectively screening refugees, with grave implications on national security.

Congress should push for a thorough and transparent vetting process, and should deny funding to the president’s program until such a process is established. The December 11th appropriations deadline provides an opportunity for Congress to use a legislative rider defunding the president’s expansion, after which Congress may work with security experts to pass legislation establishing a thorough screening process, and a mechanism for lawmakers to affirm the administration is implementing the new process correctly.

Conclusion: The power of the purse is a constitutionally-established power of Congress, and appropriations legislation provides the clearest opportunity for its use. These are not the only conservative policies that can be pursued during the appropriations process, but they are critical ones. Current members of Congress were elected with a clear mandate to pursue conservative policies and spending reforms, and should not abandon the fight on key points of leverage.

Read More

Defunding Planned Parenthood: Claim and Response

Abortion giant Planned Parenthood has been a recipient of federal dollars under Title X of the Public Health Service Act and via Medicaid reimbursements, among other sources. Last reporting year, Planned Parenthood received $528 million in taxpayer dollars – 41% of its total revenue – a significant portion of which comes from these federal government programs.

In July 2015, the Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of undercover videos documenting leading Planned Parenthood executives haggling over the price of fetal body parts, as well as describing the use of the illegal partial-birth abortion procedure to secure intact organs. These videos have galvanized the conservative movement to demand that Congress finally defund Planned Parenthood.

But on September 30th, 2015, the House voted 277-151 to pass a so-called “clean” two-month continuing resolution (CR) that preserved federal funding for Planned Parenthood. This CR sets a new deadline for December 11, providing another opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood through the appropriations process.

Read More

Claim and Fact: Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA)

Claim: TEA does not fix the Highway Trust Fund (HTF)

TEA reduces the federal role in transportation once prior obligations of the HTF are met.  The bill does not (and should not) propose a solution to past mismanagement and past commitments that were based on unrealistic projections of revenue and/or the assumption of a general fund bailout.  Conservatives have proposed numerous offsets and reforms that would enable the HTF to be brought to solvency through spending reductions and devolution of responsibilities to the states.

Claim: TEA will require states to raise their gasoline taxes.

TEA gradually reduces the federal gas tax over a five-year period, while block-granting a portion of those revenues to states over that same time period. This is intended to allow states to transition to a funding structure that allows them the independence to manage their unique infrastructure requirements. Under the current HTF financing structure, one in four of the dollars states send to the federal government are diverted to non-highway spending.  Eighteen percent of gasoline taxes go to the account dedicated to mass-transit within the Highway Trust Fund.  Transit users do not pay anything into the Highway Trust Fund.  There is more than enough funding at the current taxation levels to fund the maintenance of the national highway network—the issue is the wasteful federal diversions and mandates that increase project costs.  State tax burdens will be much lower without federal mandates and wasteful spending absorbing billions of dollars in revenue.  TEA returns the responsibility for raising revenue to the states, gradually phasing out federal gas taxes to a low, but sufficient level.  States then have the flexibility to fund right-size transportation budgets how they see fit.

Claim: TEA will damage the national transportation network.

Read More