Speeches & Floor Statements

Colloquy Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander on Fixing Housing First

Posted on February 4, 2009

Mr. President, Republicans believe we ought to fix housing first, and we would like to talk about that for the next 30 minutes. Mr. Kyl, the Senator from Arizona, is here for that purpose. Senator Ensign is here, who is the author of an amendment that would provide 4 to 4.5 percent mortgages for up to 40 million Americans so they could buy new homes or refinance their homes. Senator Isakson is here, who is the author of an amendment to provide a $15,000 tax credit for the next year to home buyers. We believe these proposals would provide instant jobs. Housing got us into this economic mess and housing will help get us out of the economic mess. The Republican leader, Senator McConnell, stated that this is a big spending bill. I was on the telephone last night with the former budget chairman, Senator Domenici of New Mexico, who has been counting in his retirement. He said it took our country from the time of its founding until the mid-1980s to build up a national debt of $850 billion, which was the size of this so-called stimulus package when it came over here. So we are talking about real borrowed money, and our goal is to reorient the whole discussion: first, to housing; second, to letting taxpayers keep more of their own money; and, third, to get out of the bill those items that don't belong in the bill. The former Congressional Budget Office director in a previous Democratic administration, Alice Rivlin, said we needed two bills: one that would include legislation that created jobs now, and the second would be legislation that might take care of long-term investments that might help our country. She also said there should be a very high standard before we borrow money to spend on anything. Especially, as the Republican leader said, at a time when next week we may be hearing from Secretary Geithner that we need several hundred billion more for banks, and then more for housing, and then more for the annual appropriations bill, and then, on down the road, more for a health care bill. I see the Senator from Arizona, and he is a leading member of the Finance Committee, and as we think about reorienting toward housing, it would seem to me, Senator Kyl, that we should focus whatever money we do have on the problem we have, rather than borrowing money to dribble away on good-sounding projects that don't actually create jobs. ------------ I thank my colleague for so clearly outlining the nature of the problem. I ask the Chair to let me know when we are about 3 minutes from the expiration of the time. There are two proposals we want to discuss which will be voted on here which will help fix housing first. The first is by the Senator from Nevada, Mr. Ensign. Senator Ensign’s idea will create instant jobs and give a jolt to the economy by giving an opportunity for lower mortgage interest rates to those persons who can afford to buy or refinance their home. There are other proposals, such as one by Senator McCain, to help people who are in trouble with their mortgage. The focus of my colleague is primarily on creditworthy Americans who could refinance their homes, save money, and get the economy moving? ---------- If I understand the proposal, if I am a creditworthy person, I can either refinance my home or buy a new home at this lower interest rate, which today would be between 4 and 4.5 percent for a 30-year mortgage. I would have that fixed mortgage all during that 30-year period of time. --------- I thank Senator Ensign for his leadership and the others on his proposal for their leadership. We hope it will attract significant Democratic support because I have heard a number of them say we need to reorient this toward housing. Senator Isakson was in the real estate business, and he often reminds us that this is not the first housing crisis we have had. As I understand, Senator Isakson, the proposal you made, which would be a tax credit to homeowners, was originally tried in the 1970s and worked? ---------- I thank the Senator from Georgia. Just to make sure it is clear, sometimes we confuse tax deduction and tax credit. This is a $15,000 tax credit. That means cash money, real money, that you can, instead of paying it to the IRS, you can put it in your pocket. Am I correct? --------- I thank the Senator from Georgia. We have now heard a proposal to give to all creditworthy Americans, which can be up to 40 million, the opportunity to buy or refinance a house with a Treasury-backed 4- to 4.5-percent mortgage. We have heard Senator Isakson's proposal to give everyone who buys a home within this next year up to a $15,000 tax credit. The Senator from Wyoming was a small businessman before he came to the Senate and is our only accountant here. What is your reaction to that, and how do you see housing fitting into the economic stimulus package that is being discussed? ----------- I thank the Senator from Wyoming for his leadership and his understanding of business that has come the hard way, through experience in his town. The Senator from Arizona, Mr. McCain, is on the Senate floor to speak on a different amendment. But he, too, has a proposal that will deal with fixing housing first. So our point is this: We understand Americans are hurting, that our economy is in a slump. But we also understand that if we do not deal with the national debt, we will be doing the worst thing that we could ever do to the working men and women of America: that is, having long-term inflation where dollars do not amount to anything and you cannot buy anything. So our focus, instead of adding to the debt by over $1 trillion, is to reorient the stimulus package toward a true stimulus and fix housing first. That is what the 4-percent mortgage for creditworthy Americans is for. That is what the $15,000 tax credit for home buyers is for. That is what the Republican proposals to help people with foreclosures are for. That is part 1, fix housing first. Part 2 is let people keep more of their own money. Those are tax reductions. Then part 3 is take off this bill all of the spending items that do not have anything to do with creating jobs now. So we welcome the calls for bipartisan work. We are ready to work. We have good ideas: fix housing first, let people keep more of their own money, and focus the bill on spending projects that create jobs today, not those that do not. I yield the floor. ####