The Corner

Lee, Rubio, Cotton, and More Move to Block AFFH in Senate

Senator Mike Lee has just introduced a bill to defund President Obama’s federal takeover of local government via the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation. Lee’s bill is called the “Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act” (it’s too new to have a number). In addition to defunding AFFH, Lee’s bill defunds Obama’s creepy and controlling housing “Assessment Tool,” which could be used as a basis for “disparate impact” suits against your locality. Lee’s bill has a number of co-sponsors, most notably including presidential candidate Marco Rubio. Other co-sponsors are Tom Cotton, Mike Enzi, Jeff Sessions, and David Vitter.

Rubio joining Lee on this bill is, to my knowledge, the first time a presidential candidate has weighed in on AFFH. We’re still waiting for Hillary to declare her position on a battle whose epicenter is now her home town. (Hillary’s Scooby Van was last seen headed as far away from the controversy as possible.)

Kudos to Rubio for taking on AFFH. It’s good to see that Rubio is balancing his growing interest in “reform conservative” ideas for opening up opportunities to the less-well-off with full-throated opposition to Obama’s government overreach. That strikes me as a powerful combination. So what about the other candidate with a prominent interest in reform conservatism? Is Jeb Bush willing to take on AFFH as well? What about the rest of the GOP field? Will Rubio be the only candidate to come out against AFFH?  Right now we need all the candidates to back efforts in the House and Senate to defund this massive government overreach.

There are now active GOP efforts in both the House and Senate to cancel and/or defund AFFH. The House campaign against AFFH is being led by Congressman Paul Gosar, who has already carried an amendment to defund AFFH, and who has a stand-alone bill to repeal AFFH as well. (For details, go here.) Readers who oppose AFFH should contact their congressional representatives and ask them to support the efforts of Sen. Lee and Rep. Gosar to block AFFH.

It’s not impossible that Republicans in Congress might succeed in defunding or repealing AFFH. Much depends on the precise form in which funding for HUD is passed, as a separate bill or as part of a massive omnibus spending bill. Obama has his veto power, but it’s conceivable that he will receive an AFFH defund amendment in a larger bill that he finds difficult to veto.

The degree of public opposition will influence how strongly the Republican leadership in Congress will work to keep any defunding amendments in a final bill, whatever form that bill takes. The bottom line is that strong public support for the Gosar and Lee efforts to block AFFH can make a real difference. Opposition from GOP presidential candidates could play an important role here as well, and might even smoke out Hillary on this awkward hometown issue.

Yet it would be foolish for local governments to rely on congressional efforts to defund AFFH. For now, localities wishing to avoid a de facto federal takeover need to consider turning down HUD grant money. Sen. Lee’s press release on his AFFH defunding bill rightly notes problems in HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG). But there’s no time to wait for reform. Localities need to consider turning down HUD money right now.

A new website, Obamazone.org, provides a way for you to find out what your locality already accepts in the way of CDBG money. The site features news about opposition to AFFH and helpful videos as well. While CDBG is the largest HUD grant program by far, it’s important to keep in mind that there are several other smaller HUD grant programs, and taking even a dollar from any one of them leaves a locality vulnerable to de facto federal takeover.

Turning down HUD money is the smart play right now. If AFFH stands, however, it will not do as a long-term solution. The citizens of every locality in the country are taxed to fund HUD. Turning down the grants picks their pockets. If AFFH stands, efforts to cut funding for CDBG will have to begin. For now, however, the safest play is to turn down HUD money and press Congress to pass the Gosar and Lee bills defunding or canceling AFFH.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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