February 22, 2013
At this writing, the agreement delaying sequestration will expire on March 1st and across the board spending cuts will go into effect. It is unclear if progress will be made or if Congress will even act to delay the cuts. I voted against the Budget Control Act in the summer of 2011 that set the table for sequestration. I thought it was an irresponsible approach to solving our fiscal problems. I shared my concerns after that 2011 vote, which you may review here: http://www.house.gov/capuano/e-updates/eu2011-08-02.shtml.
I have my doubts that Congress will act before next Friday. I hope I am wrong, but at this point, it seems like there are too many Members of Congress who want sequestration to happen – either to get the budget cuts they want or to force compromise. I think March will be a very difficult month in Washington.
As you know, I am advocating for a balanced approach to reducing the deficit. We simply cannot solve our problems through spending cuts alone. Unfortunately, too many Members disagree with this path and continue to insist on just cutting spending. It is important to keep in mind as we get closer to sequestration that there have already been significant cuts in federal spending. In just the past two years, $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction has been achieved, and that has been primarily due to spending cuts.
Here are just a few examples of recent program cuts:
- Funding for elderly housing, which went from $825 million in fiscal year 2010 to $374 million in fiscal year 2012
- Funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which went from $4.7 billion in FY 2010 to $3.47 billion in FY 2012 – these are funds that help seniors
- Funding for Department of Justice grants, including for community oriented policing, has been reduced by 41% over two years.
These are significant reductions in a very short timeframe and I fear it is only going to get worse. I will continue to keep you informed as sequestration approaches.
Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance
I met this week with the Associate Director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA) as well as community organizers associated with the group. MAHA focuses on housing sustainability. This includes educating borrowers and homeowners through homebuyer classes covering mortgage product education, and providing information about what goes into purchasing a home. MAHA also educates consumers on financial planning and other pocketbook issues through its Homeownership University, which is located in Dorchester. I received an update on the array of programming that MAHA offers as well as the organization’s goals for 2013.
One of the initiatives that MAHA briefed me on is ONE Mortgage, a new program targeting first time homeowners that will be available later this year. The idea behind the program is to offer competitive interest rates for people who are financially ready to purchase a home. As part of the program, qualified buyers will receive an education on mortgage financing and learn more about the responsibilities of homeownership.
Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory
On Tuesday I spent some time at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton. A National Historic Landmark, it is America’s oldest continuously operated observatory. It first began collecting weather related data in 1885. Today, more than 10,000 visitors a year tour the Observatory. I was originally scheduled to visit on the afternoon of February 8th, but forecasters there correctly predicted that we’d be facing a substantial snow storm. The Observatory is a privately run non-profit institution although it does share weather related data with NOAA. Weather related information is also available on the Observatory’s website. Staffers have put together data on temperature and precipitation amounts which indicate that, at least in the Blue Hills, the climate has undeniably gotten warmer and we have seen more precipitation coming as part of bigger storms.
Downtown North Association
On Wednesday I met with the Downtown North Association, a non-profit organization targeting Boston’s North and West End communities. Members include area businesses and residents. We talked about the situation in Washington, particularly the looming prospect of sequestration. Many organization members expressed disbelief that Congress would simply allow sequestration to go into effect on March 1st. We also talked about a number of local transportation projects including the Leverett pedestrian bridge, Longfellow Bridge, North Washington Street Bridge and the Green Line Extension.
GAO Report on Dodd-Frank
Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that I requested along with Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, entitled “Financial Regulatory Reform: Financial Crisis Losses and Potential Impacts of the Dodd- Frank Act.” Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010 in response to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The law represents significant progress in reining in the big financial firms. It also establishes new, robust financial regulations, additional investor protections and the nation’s first consumer financial protection agency.
The GAO report, which can be viewed at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-180, offers a comprehensive analysis of the devastating impacts of the financial crisis and the role that the Dodd-Frank Act is playing in addressing the damage. The GAO estimates that cumulative losses could exceed $13 trillion. Losses in household wealth and high unemployment also occurred as a result of the financial crisis.
As regulations associated with implementing Dodd-Frank move forward, it is important to remember why this law is necessary. During the financial crisis, Congress was forced to take drastic measures to prevent our financial markets from collapsing. Millions of Americans lost homes to foreclosure. Millions more lost retirement savings and too many Americans found themselves unemployed. Any costs associated with implementing Dodd-Frank pale in comparison to the trillions of dollars already lost. Congress must ensure that Dodd-Frank is implemented comprehensively and effectively so that the tools are in place to prevent another financial crisis.
What’s Up Next Week
A legislative schedule is not yet available but next votes in the House will take place Monday February 25th.