Cardoza rips HUD secretary for Rio de Janeiro trip, seeks travel budget cut

House Democrats angry with the administration’s response to the housing crisis escalated their fight Thursday by stripping the Housing secretary of his travel budget.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) said his amendment eliminating Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan’s travel allowance was designed to cause Donovan and his staff “a little personal pain” and to send the White House a message that Democrats have lost confidence in the secretary and the administration’s response to the foreclosure crisis.

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The House approved Cardoza’s amendment by voice vote. It was set to vote later Thursday on the full Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill.

“Frankly, I want to cause them a little personal pain,” Cardoza said Thursday morning after he and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met privately with Donovan. “I want them to understand that they’re hurting the folks in my district by their lack of action, and so they just plant their butts at their desks and do the job that they were appointed to do.”

Cardoza, whose district has been hit hard by the housing crisis, said he targeted Donovan’s travel budget because he was offended that the secretary was flying to foreign countries to attend conferences while families suffered foreclosures. Cardoza previously called on Donovan to resign.

After he left the testy meeting, Donovan charged that Cardoza was distorting the facts of his own district’s housing market.

“I don’t think he’s got the facts right,” Donovan said. “In fact, there’s a report out today from RealtyTrac on the first half of the year, and the single place in the country where foreclosures have decreased the most is Merced, [Calif.,] in his district. And almost every part of his district has seen a substantial decrease in foreclosures.

“It’s not our report, it’s an independent report, and it shows a 35 percent decline year-over-year in foreclosures in Merced, and a 20-35 percent decline in other parts of his district,” Donovan continued.

Asked about the report, Cardoza said it only further demonstrates the administration’s inability to grasp the problem. “Sure, when all of the houses in my district are foreclosed on, the foreclosure rate in my district will be zero, and then they’ll [HUD] declare victory,” Cardoza said.

Donovan said he agrees with Cardoza that more needs to be done in response to the housing crisis, but attacked the proposal to gut the agency’s travel budget as undermining the very solution Cardoza wants.

“That is funding that goes to do foreclosure counseling events and a whole range of other things that are exactly the kinds of things we ought to be doing in his district,” Donovan said. “So to me it certainly looks like he’s cutting off his nose to spite his face.”

Cardoza is not alone in believing that axing HUD’s travel budget was necessary to send the administration a message on housing.

Six other Democrats from California and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) signed on as co-sponsors, and Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.), who managed debate for those opposed to the amendment, conceded on the floor that the number of co-sponsors would have been considerably higher had the amendment been unveiled prior to Wednesday night. Olver also allowed the amendment to pass on a voice vote.

While introducing the amendment on behalf of her colleagues, Kaptur described it as “a way to wake HUD from its cavalier slumber.”

Donovan remained defiant throughout his personal grilling from Cardoza on Thursday morning, according to sources in attendance — a tactic that administration officials often deliberately try to avoid when they find themselves on the receiving end of a lawmaker’s wrath.

As he left the meeting with the Hispanic Caucus, Donovan threw Cardoza’s words back at him. He said the lawmaker would be causing “personal pain” to people in his district and to other low-income people around the country if the language eliminating the travel budget is not stripped from the legislation.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development had no immediate reaction to the House’s approval of Cardoza’s amendment.

This story was originally posted at 1:57 p.m. and updated at 3:34 p.m. and 9:08 p.m.