His Senate confirmation hearing did little to answer these questions, as Carson both pledged to cut spending, and to keep—or even expand—programs that are the hallmark of what HUD does.
“I do believe that government can play a very important role,” he said, in his opening statement. “There are points of intervention, things we can do to make a difference in people’s lives.” What he doesn’t believe, it seems, is that the government should spend money to carry out those interventions. When New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez asked Carson whether his “worldview” fit into HUD’s core mission, Carson defended his campaign pledges to cut back on government spending.
“We can never seem to cut, because people have their programs and they say, ‘This one is sacred, and this one is not.’ The point being, if we can find a number on which we can agree and begin to cut back, we can start thinking about fiscal responsibility,” Carson said. “Bear in mind, we are approaching a $20 trillion national debt.”
Carson also believes that there should be a limit to how much public assistance America should provide. “We have to be cognizant of our fiscal responsibilities, as well as our social responsibilities,” he said in response to a question by Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. “Would we love to put every single person in a beautiful unit forever? Absolutely, that would be ideal. But we don’t necessarily have the necessary funding.”
And in an exchange with the Republican senator from North Carolina Thom Tillis, Carson pledged to look at which HUD programs he could cut:
Tillis: What’s the best thing we can do for people with government assistance?
Carson: Get them off of it.
Tillis: Do you think there are any sacred cows in HUD that stand in the way of that outcome?
Carson: I've been studying it carefully and I haven't seen one yet.
Tillis: Do you think that to a certain extent over the years we've gone from providing housing to providing warehousing for an unacceptable number of people who are supported through the federal government?
Carson: Well, the key to your question there was the word “unacceptable.” And yes, absolutely.
Tillis: Do you believe that HUD and the other agencies have creeped their scopes over time and that you can be someone who may say that HUD needs to be smaller, or some other organization needs to be smaller so that the people best able to provide the safety net, the agency best positioned to provide the safety net can do it, and you can complement in some points and take the lead in others?
Carson: I believe we need to be much more efficient.
Yet when various senators asked Carson to weigh in on specific programs that helped their constituents, he consistently pledged to keep them going. That included a rental-assistance demonstration that provides assistance to 4.5 million households, a community-development block grant that will provide $1.6 billion to Americans, including thousands affected by floods in Louisiana, and a program to rid housing of lead hazards. In fact, he said, a program to end veteran homelessness “needs more enhancements.” He also promised to embark on a nationwide “listening tour” to hear more about what needs to be improved at the department.