CABINET HEARING: Marcia Fudge, Nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Cecilia Rouse, Nominee for Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

January 28, 2021, Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Questions from Senators touched on topics including Rep. Fudge’s past comments criticizing Republican lawmakers, inequality in America, affordable housing, opportunity zones, a coronavirus relief bill, and unemployment. 

ISSUES RAISED

  • Rep. Fudge’s Past Comments – Chairman Pat Toomey (R-PA) asked Rep. Fudge about some of her criticisms of Republican lawmakers. Rep. Fudge said she has always been able to work across the aisle and reach bipartisan compromise with her Republican colleagues. 
  • Inequality – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) asked Rouse what it would mean for American families and for the economy if government policies closed the racial wealth gap substantially. Rouse noted she is concerned about the increasing wealth gap, adding that wealth represents a cumulative impact of inherited resources and reflects family circumstances as well as obstacles in the labor and financial markets. She stated that the wealth gap between Black and white Americans in particular can be attributed to policies like redlining. She said that closing the wealth gap is not about trying to take away from anyone but ensuring that everybody can participate in the economy. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) asked Rep. Fudge to explain the difference between racial equity and racial equality. Rep. Fudge said the difference is one means you treat everybody the same and sometimes the same is not equitable. She added that equity means making the playing field level. 
  • Housing – Numerous Senators asked Rep. Fudge about her plans for HUD. Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asked Rep. Fudge to explain what she will do through HUD to ensure that families do not lose homes. Rep. Fudge noted that the Department will want to stabilize the market. She stated that the U.S. cannot afford to have millions of people evicted. She said that on any given day, there are eight million people who need housing. She said that HUD will need to expand housing choice vouchers so the number of people paying exorbitant amounts of rent will decrease. She also stated that HUD will need to find ways to assist people who want to build low-income affordable housing. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) asked Rep. Fudge what HUD should do to encourage communities to abandon exclusionary zoning and embrace policies that build equitable and affordable housing. Rep. Fudge noted that housing has increased by 10% or more per year and the average person HUD serves are those whose incomes are not rising. She stated that the Department will have to find some incentives for homebuilders especially those that build multifamily housing. 
  • Opportunity Zones – Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) asked Rep. Fudge whether she would use opportunity zones as a way of meeting housing needs. Rep. Fudge said she would take a serious look at opportunity zones and determine how many jobs have been created and what the cost has been. 
  • Stimulus Bill – Multiple Senators asked Rouse about provisions that should be included in a coronavirus relief bill. Rouse stated that now is not the time to withhold fiscal support from state and local governments, adding that the federal government must ensure state and local governments are able to provide for fire workers, transit workers, first responders, and educators. Rouse noted that the travel and leisure industry has been hit significantly by the coronavirus pandemic. She supported targeted assistance for the hardest hit areas and added that President Biden shares this sentiment. 
  • Unemployment – Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) asked Rouse about stabilizers for unemployment insurance. Rouse stated that automatic stabilizers are a tool in the toolkit as the government thinks about how to deal with economic slowdowns. She added that geography is an important part of their design. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) asked Rouse how Congress can help ensure unemployment covers all forms of work. Rouse said the system is not providing the kind of safety net it used to as many workers are not covered by unemployment. She stated that the system was designed for short-term unemployment and what we have observed is that unemployment rolls are becoming longer, and the UI system is not designed to help. She argued that the UI system must be modernized. 

TAKEAWAY

Both Rep. Fudge and Dr. Rouse survived their confirmation hearing without any major issues that would indicate a problem with their nominations. Both nominees will focus intently on the need for greater racial equity, particularly considering the uneven economic recovery now underway. Rep. Fudge’s experience as a member of the House, past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and time spent as a mayor prior to entering Congress will all help her navigate the issues and relationships she’ll need to be successful once confirmed. She is likely to draw bipartisan support in the Senate, and her home state senator, Rob Portman, has spoken of her experience working collaboratively with Republicans. For Dr. Rouse, her experience on the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama will help her hit the ground running in her new role as Chair, and will likely work closely with Brian Deese and the National Economic Council as the administration continues to develop its policies to confront the economic recovery and racial inequities.

WHAT’S NEXT?

With their confirmation hearings now behind them, the Senate will likely move expeditiously to confirm both nominees on the floor. Confirmation of Cabinet nominees, particularly for the national security and economic teams, has been the main priority of the Biden administration and Majority Leader Schumer when it comes to personnel, and given the need for sound economic analysis and ongoing housing assistance, the White House sees both the Rouse and Fudge nominations as top priorities early in the administration.