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D.C. Memo: Biden tries to tackle high rents; Stauber has win on airline safety, loss on BWCA; no progress on debt ceiling

The Biden administration has tasked several federal agencies to do what they can to help beleaguered tenants. But there’s a limit to what the White House can do.

President Joe Biden delivering an economic speech at SteamFitters UA Local 602 in Springfield, Virginia, on Thursday.
President Joe Biden delivering an economic speech at SteamFitters UA Local 602 in Springfield, Virginia, on Thursday.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

WASHINGTON — President Biden took aim this week at the rising cost of renting a home or apartment, which a new report says has climbed to the highest level ever.

While inflation and the cost of gas and other goods has declined, rent in most areas of the nation has not. Moody’s Analytics says the typical American renter is now “rent-burdened.” That means that 30% of the median U.S. income is required to pay the average rent.

So the Biden administration has tasked several federal agencies to do what they can to help beleaguered tenants. But there’s a limit to what the White House can do.

The president, for example, can’t regulate rent nationwide. And housing laws are a patchwork of state and local rules and zoning regulations.

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Nevertheless, Biden has asked the Federal Trade Commission to collect information exploring unfair practices in the rental market and to hold background check companies accountable for having unreasonable procedures.

And the Department of Housing and Urban Development will start work on a new regulation that would require public housing authorities to provide at least 30 days’ advanced notice before terminating a lease for nonpayment of rent.

There’s also a new “Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights” that sets guidelines for renters to stay in affordable housing. But this, and other related proposals the White House released this week, are not binding and aimed at prodding landlords as well as state and local governments to adopt more tenant-friendly policies.

More than a third of the U.S. population — 44 million households — rent their homes. But the cost of rental housing varies widely across the nation – and Minnesota.

According to Rent Data, in 2021 Minnesota had the 32nd highest rent in the country out of 56 states and territories. Rents ranged from $732 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in Aitkin County to almost double that,$1,308 for a two-bedroom unit in the Twin Cities area. A home or apartment with four bedrooms cost an average of $2,156 a month in the Twin Cities area.

And rents have increased since the study was conducted in 2021.

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The White House said that before the pandemic, well over 2 million eviction fillings and roughly 900,000 evictions occurred annually – disproportionately affecting Black women and their children.

“Since then, rental housing has become less affordable with some landlords taking advantage of market conditions to pursue egregious rent increases,” a White House statement said.

Third time a charm for Stauber?

Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th District, had a huge victory this week as the U.S. House approved his NOTAM Improvement Act, which would create a task force under the Federal Aviation Administration aimed at boosting the stability of the system that notifies pilots and airports of any potential flight hazards.

The Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system failed on Jan. 11, causing a nationwide grounding of planes. Last week, the FAA determined that contractor working on NOTAM’s ancient computers mistakenly deleted a few files, causing the chaos.

The incident prompted lawmakers on Wednesday to vote in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way, 424-4 to pass Stauber’s legislation.

“I think what happened a couple of weeks ago added urgency,” Stauber said.

There was more good news for the Republican who represents the Iron Range in Congress.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., sponsored a Senate version of Stauber’s bill this week. Stauber had introduced his NOTAM Improvement Act two times before, but it was not made into law because the Senate never acted upon it.

“As co-chair of the bipartisan Travel and Tourism Caucus, I look forward to working with Representative Stauber and my colleagues in the Senate to advance this bill and strengthen our air travel infrastructure,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

This and that

Stauber, however, suffered a serious setback when the Biden administration this week issued a 20-year mining moratorium on more than 225,000 acres of the Superior National Forest in an attempt to safeguard the Rainy River Watershed, which includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area (you can read about the announcement here).

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The mining moratorium would allow taconite mining to continue in the forest, but deals what could be a fatal blow to Twin Metals’ plans for a new copper, cobalt and nickel mine in the area that’s now off limits.

Meanwhile, controversy increased this week surrounding an attempt to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, from her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as some GOP House members signaled their discomfort about voting for a resolution to oust the progressive Democrat.

They say it’s inconsistent for House Republicans to agree to remove Omar from that post – a priority for Speaker Kevin McCarthy – when those same GOP members were up in arms when former Speaker Nancy Pelosi removed two Freedom Caucus members from their committee jobs. A defection of more than three Republican members could doom McCarthy’s efforts to sanction Omar if all House Democrats stand behind her.

And there was little progress this week to find an agreement on raising the debt limit. House Republicans continued to insist on spending cuts to raise the amount of money the U.S. government could borrow – in the form of sales of Treasury bonds – to pay for its obligations.  But those House Republicans have not identified exactly which programs should be cut.

House GOP members are divided as to whether Medicare and Social Security spending should be on the chopping block. They are also split on whether the Pentagon’s budget should be reduced.

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, tweeted Thursday that President Biden’s criticisms of House Republicans’ stance on the debt ceiling “is a big mistake.”

“It’s time for Joe Biden to join House Republicans at the bargaining table on the debt ceiling – not dig his heels in & attack the new House Majority that American voters elected to rein in his reckless spending agenda,” Emmer said.

Yet in a recent interview with the Associated Press, Emmer, who as the new House majority whip helped win the support of rebellious, hardline GOP House members for McCarthy’s speakership, said much of what was agreed to with the holdouts who demanded spending cuts was “aspirational.”

“Some might criticize me when I say it’s an aspirational document because they think it’s more than that, and they’re right,” Emmer told the AP.  “Because we now have to hold ourselves to this.”

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One of the concessions McCarthy made was a commitment to return to federal spending to 2022 budget levels, which would cut domestic programs and the Pentagon’s budget by about 8%.

Emmer was also given a new job on a new panel with a long name that’s aimed at bringing Congress up to speed on the crypto industry — the  House Financial Services Subcommittee on Digital Assets, Financial Technology, and Inclusion and the Subcommittee on Capital Markets.

A leading crypto booster, Emmer has been a sharp critic of how the Security and Exchange Commission regulates the industry and indicated he would step up his efforts.

“With our hands on the gavel, Republicans will be a powerful check on the Biden administration’s financial regulators,” he said in a statement.