Homebuilders Back On Capitol Hill--And Still Feeling Ignored


I went up to Capitol Hill this morning because about 1,200 members of the National Association of Home Builders are taking their annual day of action up here.

It couldn't be more timely, as several bills are working their way through Congress to help builders and borrowers alike and to right the housing market.

I have to say I was a little curious as to how the builders would be received, given their bold move in February, when the association cut off all PAC money to Congressional members.

Then-NAHB President Brian Catalde said at the time: "This extraordinary action was taken because the NAHB BUILD-PAC Board of Trustees felt that over the past six months Congress and the Administration have not adequately addressed the underlying economic issues that would help to stabilize the housing sector and keep the economy moving forward. This action will remain in effect until further notice." So far no notice.

Catalde was careful to be pretty vague about their issues with legislators, so as not to invoke that whole quid pro quo thing, although that's pretty much how everyone on K Street saw the move at the time. Some went so far as to call it "inappropriate behavior."

A reporter from The Hill Newspaper paraphrased a campaign finance lobbyist for the ethics watchdog Public Citizen, writing: "The group likely narrowly avoided triggering a probe by the Justice Department by not mentioning any particular legislation in its statement announcing the freeze of political donations."

Back up on the hill this morning, I asked NAHB Chairman and CEO Jerry Howard if he felt at all strange coming back up here to ask for help, after his association had made such a brash move.

"The bottom line is--our members have felt that over the course of the last 4 or 5 years – Congress had totally ignored the housing industry...finally our guys said “enough is enough” - they’re not doing anything for housing--why should we play the game if they’re not going to be playing the game," Howard said, pretty brashly himself.

He continued: "And I’ll give you some examples. There was a bill to modernize the low income housing tax credit , the GSE reform Bill is still languishing, FHA modernization has taken 2 years."

And without my prompting: "We think we have access just by virtue of the fact that we are 15 percent of the GDP--we think that gives us access. This was our way of saying “we need more than access, we need action across a whole range of issues."

What about the quid pro quo, I asked? "There is no quid pro quo," he argues. "There is the housing industry and there are a multitude of actions Congress can take to show their interest in the housing sector--they hadn’t done anything."

If you thought the move back in February was brash, well I thought those statements were even brasher, especially when he listed, one by one, the things that hadn't gotten done. There's your quo.

I guess he's not concerned because his members did get, he claims, 300 meetings on the hill today, although not all of them with actual members, many just with staff. I think he mostly is not concerned because the housing sector issues are far greater than just the builders, and Congress is going to move on housing and mortgage relief whether the builders write a check or not.