January 12, 2017

Brown Opening Statement at Hearing on HUD Nominee Ben Carson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – released the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing on the nomination of Dr. Benjamin Carson to be Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.

Senator Sherrod Brown - Opening Statement:
Nomination Hearing
Jan. 12, 2017

Thank you, Chairman Crapo, for holding this hearing and congratulations on your new role in leading this Committee.

I also want to welcome our new members—Senators Schatz, Van Hollen, Cortez Masto, Perdue, Tillis and Kennedy. I look forward to working with all of you.

Dr. Carson, I welcome you, Mrs. Carson, and your family members who have accompanied you today. I also want to thank you for your willingness to serve our country in this critical role.

As Chairman Crapo noted, Dr. Carson is a distinguished pediatric neurosurgeon.  His remarkable life story is well known to all of us, and to millions of Americans beyond this room. He is an inspiration and a testament to the American dream.

Much as we might wish otherwise, many children won’t have the same combination of fortitude, a firm hand, and good fortune that allowed Dr. Carson to rise to the highest levels of medicine and our society. 

For some perspective, one study of medical students showed that less than 5.5% came from households with incomes under roughly $20,000.  And different research has shown that only one in 13 Americans will move from the lowest income quintile to the highest over a lifetime. 

Of course we must encourage children and adults to follow Dr. Carson’s example of getting a good education and working hard.  But we should bear in mind that many still face significant barriers to realizing their potential.

For those who cannot overcome the odds on their own, should we help them or not?  Dr. Carson has repeatedly commented that government assistance programs are harmful.  For example, he wrote that in the wake of the civil rights movement:

"[R]acist people from both parties adopted a paternalistic attitude toward African-Americans and enacted federal and state programs designed to take care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves – people who were ignorant, stupid, or just plain lazy."

Why would they do this?  To again quote Dr. Carson:

"The only reason I can imagine that it would be a good idea for government to foster dependency in large groups of citizens is to cultivate a dependable voting bloc that will guarantee continued power as long as entitlements are provided."

Dr. Carson has suggested that all assistance programs should be cut by 10 percent a year until the budget is balanced -- without exception and without regard to whether the population served is vulnerable.  Even social insurance programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, which he believes are “socialist-leaning,” should be subject to cuts.

Over 5 million Americans look to HUD for help, and we’re reaching only one out of four eligible families. Many end up on years-long waiting lists for lack of funding.  A 10 percent cut would send hundreds of thousands of families into a tailspin, and for some might literally be a matter of life and death.

I should also note that Dr. Carson has made clear that he thinks criticism of his views on federal assistance is unwarranted. So today is an opportunity for him to shed more light on these seemingly contradictory views of federal assistance.

Since 1968, HUD has been charged with ensuring that all people – regardless of race, ethnicity, or whether they have a disability – have fair and equal access to housing and that its grantees “affirmatively further” this policy. 

Here too, Dr. Carson has been critical.  In one of the few statements he has made on housing policy, he called into question more than four decades of civil rights law, and disparaged HUD’s efforts to reduce segregation as “social-engineering schemes” designed to “legislate racial equality.” 

When Dr. Carson and I met earlier this week, we discussed the tragic effects of lead in Ohio and nationwide. He knows better than the rest of us the terrible price that children and society pay for the legacy of lead in paint and industrial settings. 

I appreciated our conversation and look forward to hearing more about his views on HUD's role in removing lead hazards.

Throughout his campaign, President-elect Trump promised to rebuild America’s “inner cities,” which he labeled “hell holes.” 

Mr. Trump spelled out his views in his, quote, “New Deal for Black America, With a Plan for Urban Renewal.” The plan covers issues such as school choice, investing in law enforcement, tax reform, trade, and infrastructure investment.

But at a time when more than 11 million families are paying more than half their income toward rent, and half a million people have no place to call home, the President-elect’s plan says nothing about housing.

Dr. Carson, I know you and Mr. Trump have talked at length about his urban renewal agenda.  I am glad we have the chance today to learn more about that agenda and the role housing will play, and how you will help him deliver on his promises to create safer communities and better infrastructure, including our public housing stock.

I look forward to your testimony.