The Corner

Obama Hits Suburbs After Election

President Obama repeatedly assures us that this will be his “year of action.”  He’ll boldly issue executive orders because “we can’t wait” for Congress.  This has meant a lot of talk about carbon regulation and campus sexual assault, issues that rally the Democratic base in advance of the midterm elections.

Yet not a word has been heard of late about a truly transformative Obama executive action, his rule on “affirmatively furthering fair housing” (AFFH).  That rule will push Americans into living how and where the federal government wants.  It promises to gut the ability of suburbs to set their own zoning codes.  It will press future population growth into tiny, densely-packed high-rise zones around public transportation, urbanizing suburbs and Manhattanizing cities.

You won’t see a more ambitious Obama administration initiative than this.  Yet Obama never discusses AFFH.  Although a preliminary version of the rule was released in July of 2013, the president didn’t mention it in his State of the Union address.  The controversial rule was the subject of a Weekly Standard cover, yet as far as I can tell neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post has ever done a story on AFFH.

Now it emerges that the Obama administration released its planned regulatory agenda quietly on Friday, just ahead of the three-day holiday weekend.  The object, of course, was to minimize press coverage of controversial rules like AFFH.

As I read it, the long-delayed issuing of the finalized version of AFFH is now scheduled for December of 2014, right after the midterms.  The Obama administration seems to specialize in short-circuiting democratic accountability.  Obama’s reelection bid would likely have failed had he not delayed the implementation of Obamacare until after 2012.  His scheme to nationalize Common Core was developed out of stimulus funding, with no public debate.  Now Obama plans to launch a housing initiative dedicated to gutting suburban independence and urbanizing America, but only after the midterms.

I can’t think of an issue more worthy of public debate and discussion in advance of the 2014 midterm election than the AFFH rule and the Obama administration’s “regionalist” housing policies.  You can see dry runs for what Obama hopes to do with his new housing rule in recent planning initiatives in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Twin Cities.  This is a hugely ambitious program.

There is a way to break the Obama administration’s silence on the AFFH rule and its anti-suburban regionalist agenda.  San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, widely touted as a possible 2016 Democratic vice-presidential candidate, has just been nominated to replace Shaun Donovan, chief architect of the administration’s regionalist policies, as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Why not ask Castro about his intentions for AFFH, and about the administration’s regionalist policy more generally?  On AFFH, how far will Castro go to force densification?  What penalties will he levy?  What measuring sticks will he use?  What steps will he take to pressure suburban municipalities to participate in regional governing bodies?  How does he square AFFH with America’s long tradition of local governance?

On regionalism and densification more generally, does Castro see the recent planning efforts in San Francisco and Minneapolis—with crucial federal participation in both cases—as models for the country?  Does he agree with former Obama transportation secretary Ray LaHood that the administration’s goal should be to “coerce people out of their cars?”

These are the sorts of questions that the Obama administration has been trying to avoid for the past six years, even as it has systematically moved to change the way Americans live.  If ever there was an issue deserving of legitimate debate before an election, this is it.  And if Julian Castro has hopes of being Vice- President of the United States he ought to be willing to publicly defend the Obama administration’s regionalist policies.  After all, he’ll soon be enforcing them.

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

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