Oct. 24—WILKES-BARRE — In his opening statement at this week's U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing, Ranking Member Sen. Pat Toomey highlighted many of what he called "the flawed housing provisions" in the Democrats' $3.5 trillion spending bill.
Sen. Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, also highlighted legislation he will be introducing to stop taxpayers from subsidizing loans to investors by winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's acquisitions of single-family investor-property mortgages.
In remarks provided to the Times Leader, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, responded to Toomey's comments, stating that "too many low-income households in Pennsylvania cannot afford a place to live."
Casey added, "There's simply not enough housing and the folks who can find housing pay way too much for it — limiting what they can invest in their children's future, their professional development, or how they can get themselves out of harm's way in case of severe weather."
Casey said the backlog in investments in public housing is "a national shame," adding, "And we see the outcomes in Pennsylvania. We've made a commitment through the public housing program that conservatives have shortchanged for decades, leading to abuses of vulnerable people. We have an opportunity to change that and give kids — who need housing to have opportunity — a fair chance."
'Private ownership preferable'
In his remarks to the Banking Committee, Toomey said he was "a bit puzzled" by the hearing topic.
"It seems intended to demonize people who use their own money to buy — and even build — as little as one percent of homes in the single family housing market," Toomey said. "Let me just say for the record, private ownership is vastly preferable to the state. That's the American dream after all."
Toomey went on to say, "There's nothing wrong with people renting homes instead of, or before, becoming homeowners. And there's nothing wrong with investors putting their own money to work to meet the needs of renters."
Toomey said if Democrats are concerned about investors crowding out home buyers, he hopes they would agree that taxpayers shouldn't subsidize loans to investors.
"Unfortunately, the Biden administration has a different view," Toomey said. "It lifted existing restrictions on the ability of Fannie and Freddie to buy loans from single-family investors. That's a taxpayer giveaway. And it's why I'm introducing legislation to prohibit the GSEs from acquiring investor property mortgages. I hope my colleagues will cosponsor it."
Toomey then commented on the $3.5 trillion "elephant-in-the-room" — the Democrats' "reckless tax-and-spend spree," which includes $300-plus billion for housing.
"Billions of this aid is not targeted," Toomey said. "Some of these programs have weak means testing and loopholes. And forget work requirements — even for able-bodied childless adults. They, and many people of above-average income, will do quite well under some of these programs."
Toomey said there needs to be a different approach, rather than "big Government socialism" to help make housing affordable.
"We need to leverage the power of free enterprise — including private equity — to promote housing for all Americans," he said.
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said: "Sen. Toomey spent the last four years running up debt like a drunken sailor. In that time, he happily voted to increase the national debt by $7.8 trillion with giveaways to the very richest elites in this country.
"Now, when it comes to helping ordinary Americans who are struggling to find housing, he is putting on the poor-mouth. I say we are a better, stronger nation when we don't turn our backs on the men, women and children among us who are down on their luck and just need a decent place to sleep."
'Build Back Better' plan in focus
In related news, President Joe Biden visited Scranton on Wednesday to promote his "Build Back Better" plan, which also was the focus of polarized reactions from the region's congressional delegation.
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Dallas, dubbed it the "Build Back Broke" agenda, casting doubt on the president's message to Pennsylvanians that his plan will create jobs, cut taxes, and help working families.
"This is far from reality. If passed, President Biden's $3.5 trillion wasteful spending package will drastically increase the cost of living, drive gas and energy prices higher, stunt Main Street growth, and hinder job creation. It is simple, Pennsylvanians cannot afford President Biden's big government, tax and spend agenda. This is nothing less than big government socialism suppressing free market capitalism."
Rep. Cartwright responded by stating: "The Build Back Better Act proposal would be paid for by ensuring the wealthy class pays their fair share in taxes. It wouldn't raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 per year."
Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.