The key Congressional players in federal housing policy will not change substantially in the 105th Congress. The Democratic and Republican leadership of the House and Senate will not change significantly, and the bi-partisan leadership’s disinterest in housing policy is also unlikely to change.
The Republican majority in the House is somewhat narrower than in the 104th Congress, and the House Republican caucus appears generally more cautious and less strident. The Republican majority in the Senate, however, is wider and more conservative than in the previous Congress.
First up in 1997, the budget committees, led by Sen. Pete Domenici [R-NM] in the Senate and Rep. John Kasich [R-OH] in the House, will be key players in deciding how and whether to meet the need for billions of dollars in extra budget authority for expiring Section 8 contracts. These leaders will also be central to the overall budgetary context for housing programs in the 105th Congress and beyond.
House Banking Committee
This Committee remains polarized between urban, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.
Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach [R-IA] is likely to continue to head the panel, despite grumblings from some rank and file Republicans about his vote against re-electing Speaker Newt Gingrich [R-GA]. In the last Congress, Leach sponsored legislation to gut the federal Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). It is unclear whether House Republicans and the banking industry will continue to try to gut the CRA, but advocates certainly need to be on notice.
On housing issues, Leach has delegated most responsibilities to Rep. Rick Lazio [R-NY], who will continue to chair the Housing Opportunity Subcommittee. Lazio has reintroduced his public housing reform bill as H.R. 2 and is likely to pursue enactment of this legislation as his highest priority.
Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez [D-TX] was re-elected as Ranking Minority Member of the Banking Committee after a challenge by Reps. John LaFalce [D-NY] and Bruce Vento [D-MN]. Gonzalez is likely to continue to leave leadership on housing issues to Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy [D-MA], who will again be the ranking Democrat on the Housing Subcommittee.
House Appropriations Committee
Rep. Bob Livingston [R-LA] will continue as chair of the full Appropriations Committee, and is likely to be both inclined and forced by budget constraints to seek further cuts in domestic discretionary spending programs, including housing. Rep. Jerry Lewis [R-CA] is likely to chair the VA/HUD/Independent agencies Subcommittee which determines spending allocations for the various HUD programs. Lewis has generally not been sympathetic to housing programs, although he is more moderate than some junior House Republicans who would like to see deeper cuts or even the abolition of HUD.
The Ranking Democrats for the full Committee and subcommittee, respectively, will continue to be liberals Rep. David Obey [D-WI] and Rep. Louis Stokes [D-OH]. Their influence on housing policy will depend in large part on whether Republicans and Democrats agree on a balanced budget plan. If there is no such agreement, the appropriations process is likely to be a protracted partisan brawl as it was in the 104th Congress.
Senate Banking Committee
No major changes are on tap in the leadership of the Committee. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato [R-NY] will retain the chairmanship of the committee, and is expected to continue to push for only moderate housing reforms, particularly in light of his pending re-election contest in 1998. One blow for housing advocates was the decision of Sen. Christopher Bond [R-MO], the only other moderate Republican on the panel, to leave the committee. Sen. Paul Sarbanes [D-MD] will stay on as Ranking Minority Member and remains the Senate’s most knowledgeable and sympathetic member on housing issues.
Sen. Connie Mack [R-FL] is expected to keep his chairmanship of the housing subcommittee, and Sen. John Kerry [D-MA] will remain ranking minority member. It is unclear how the Senate will proceed on housing authorization legislation in the 105th Congress, although the bi-partisan bill passed last year on voice vote is a likely starting point.
Senate Appropriations Committee
Perhaps the most significant change in the new Congress will be the ascension of Sen. Ted Stevens [R-AK] to the Chairmanship of the full Appropriations Committee. He replaces retired Sen. Mark Hatfield [R-OR], who was one of the last liberal Republicans in the Senate, and supported domestic spending over defense spending. Stevens is considerably more conservative and hawkish than Hatfield and does not have much of a record on housing issues. The Ranking Minority Member will continue to be Sen. Robert Byrd [D-WV], who has also not been highly engaged in housing issues.
At the Subcommittee level, Sen. Christopher Bond [R-MO] retains the Chairmanship of the VA/HUD/Independent Agencies Subcommittee. Bond is one of the most knowledgeable and sympathetic Republicans in the Senate with respect to housing, but has been forced by larger budget pressures to make deep cuts in programs. If the Banking Committees do not succeed in passing legislation to overhaul the public housing and Section 8 programs, it is likely that the Appropriations Subcommittee will continue to make these changes in spending bills. Sen. Barbara Mikulski [D-MD], an ardent supporter of the NASA programs and frequent HUD critic, will retain the Ranking Minority Member slot on the Subcommittee.