115th Congress Begins 2017 Term with Flurry of Legislative Activity

Senators and representatives of the 115th Congress were sworn in last week, officially kicking off the new Congressional term. Along with control of the White House, Republicans have a majority of seats in the House (241-194) and Senate (52-48), giving the party a significant opportunity to enact its top policy priorities, including tax reform, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and immigration reform. The new Congressional session began with a flurry of legislative activity. 

As one of its first official acts, the House last week passed the “Midnight Rule Relief Act” by a vote of 238 to 184, largely along party lines. If enacted, the bill would amend the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to allow Congress to repeal any administrative rule finalized in the last 60 legislative days of the Obama administration en masse through a joint resolution of disapproval, which does not require the President’s signature. This authority could allow Congress to repeal several recently finalized HUD rules issued after June 13, 2016, including those impacting economic mobility within the Continuum of Care program, expanding equal access based on gender identity to federal housing programs administered by the Office of Community Planning and Development, expanding equal access rules to Native American and Native Hawaiian programs, protecting victims of harassment in housing, implementing housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, and instituting smoke-free public housing, among others.

Republican lawmakers introduced a number of bills in the first few days of the new Congressional session that could impact federal funding for HUD and USDA affordable housing programs.

Several lawmakers, including Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), introduced multiple resolutions calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require Congress to pass a balanced budget. Under these proposals, federal spending could exceed the amount of revenue collected by the U.S. government for the same fiscal year. But a balanced budget amendment (BBA) could limit the government’s ability to stimulate the economy during a time of crisis and lead to severe cuts in vital affordable housing programs that would harshly affect seniors, children, people with disabilities, and veterans. A BBA also raises several legal complications that could shift budgetary decision-making away from Congress to federal judges.

Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) also introduced several bills that would implement an across-the-board cut to non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending for FY17 and FY18. H.R. 85 would cut NDD spending by 1%, in line with President-elect Donald Trump’s “penny plan.” H.R. 86 and H.R. 87 would cut NDD spending by 2% and 5% respectively. Any such reductions in NDD spending would result in deep cuts to critical housing programs that could cause thousands of households to lose access to stable housing, putting them at increased risk of homelessness.

Representative Lou Barletta (R-PA) introduced a bill that would punish communities that have immigrant “sanctuary” laws and policies in place by stripping them of all federal funding, including funds received from HUD and USDA for affordable housing. The “Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act” (H.R. 83) would undermine local efforts to ensure the safety and quality of life of the millions of people and families who rely on these programs for safe, decent, and accessible affordable housing.