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Housing and Guns Are Minibus Winners

Gun rights and housing industry advocates are poised for legislative victories if a major spending bill clears Congress this week, and they are working diligently to help get the minibus package across the finish line.

“There are 12 critical protections for gun owners that are included and that is why we are supporting the package,” National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Chris Cox said. “We have communicated our support to the leadership and directly to Members.”

The minibus is likely to be considered by the House today. If it passes, it will be sent to the Senate, which is expected to act on the measure before adjourning this evening for a weeklong Thanksgiving recess. 

Cox pointed to three provisions in particular that would be made law under the minibus: language that would prohibit the Justice Department from consolidating firearms sales records, from electronically retrieving the records of former firearms dealers and from disclosing information on people who have passed firearms background checks.

The bill includes a host of one-year gun protections and new language barring the Justice Department from requiring imported shotguns to meet a “sporting purposes” test. The legislation also bars the use of funds to transfer the functions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to other agencies and to promulgate or implement any rule requiring a physical inventory of any licensed firearms business.

The measure directs ATF to report to the Appropriations committees on the total number of firearms recovered by the government of Mexico, including those for which an ATF trace is attempted and those determined to be manufactured in the United States. The provision comes as Republicans have criticized the 2009 Phoenix-based “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking operation targeting Mexican drug cartels. Officials lost guns used in the sting — some of which were later connected to crimes including the murder of a Border Patrol agent.

Realtors and home builders are backing the minibus because it also includes language that increases the mortgage amount the Federal Housing Administration can insure to $729,750.

“From a policy perspective, what makes us the most happy is the reinstitution of the higher FHA single-family loan limit,” National Association of Home Builders CEO Jerry Howard said. “Raising those loan limits back to what they were prior to the end of September sends a very strong message that Congress is finally acknowledging that the housing [industry] can’t take any more body blows.”

After being raised in response to the financial industry crisis in 2008, the limits fell back to $625,500 with the start of fiscal 2012 on Oct. 1. Howard said that keeping the limits at the higher levels will help spur home sales and stabilize the housing market and, by extension, the overall economy.

NAHB is “key voting” the bill, which goes into the calculation NAHB uses to encourage its members to support and endorse incumbents. NAHB itself does not endorse candidates.

“It’s not the only factor, but it is one of the factors in making that decision,” Howard said.

The National Association of Realtors is also pushing for passage of the package.

“We have asked realtors to urge their Senators and Representatives to reinstate the higher loan limits in calls for action,” National Association of Realtors spokeswoman Stephanie Singer said.

“Reverting to lower loan limits has impacted 669 counties in 42 states and the District of Columbia, with an average loan limit reduction of more than $68,000,” Singer continued. “Mortgage availability remains a real concern since the private market has yet to return; and while the housing market recovery is still soft, NAR firmly believes that lower loan limits will only further restrict liquidity in mortgage markets.”

The minibus is made up of three individual spending bills, including the Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill; the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill; and the Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration appropriations bill.

The measure also includes a continuing resolution that would keep the government funded through Dec. 16. The current CR expires at midnight Friday, which is the deadline for Congress to act. Otherwise government funds would cease to flow and federal programs would shut down.

Senate leaders continue to work on a deal for consideration of amendments to the Energy and water development appropriations bill currently being considered on the Senate floor.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) introduced an amendment to ensure that American taxpayers are repaid first if a recipient of a loan guarantee issued by the Department of Energy goes into default.

The amendment comes after Solyndra, a California-based solar panel maker and recipient of a DOE loan guarantee, went bankrupt and is now under investigation. Republicans have accused the White House of improperly directing preferential treatment to the firm.

“Like many Americans, I am outraged that the administration would issue a very questionable loan guarantee — to the tune of $535 million — on the backs of taxpayers,” Isakson said in a release. “I am even more astounded that when it appeared Solyndra was going into default, the administration took proactive steps and forced taxpayers to take a backseat to private investors in being repaid.” 

The measure was also expected to carry the State and foreign operations appropriations bill and the financial services and general government appropriations bill in an effort to move a second minibus through the Senate, but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave up on that effort  Tuesday night after an agreement could not be reached with Republicans to attach the other two bills.

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