On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 41 by a vote of 354-67. The bill is the first of two pieces of superstorm Sandy legislation Speaker John Boehner promised the New York and New Jersey delegations in return for not bringing the $60 billion aid package to the floor, as promised, in the 112th Congress after the “fiscal cliff” tax vote. (Because Boehner didn’t like the optics of pushing a $60 billion aid package after the vote when he wanted to publicly use the fiscal cliff to lecture Obama over the spending… which is actually dictated by Boehner’s House, not Obama.) Also, Boehner had to do something because the NJ/NY GOP delegation was so angry it put Boehner’s entire Speakership election in real jeopardy. That was the other emergency behind this vote.
All 67 “No” votes were Republicans. Ohio Congressmen Chabot, Jordan, and Wenstrup were among the No votes. The intent of the bill was to provide $9 billion the National Flood Insurance Program needed in order to process claims from Sandy. Without the bill, the program lacked the ability to pay claims it was liable to pay. Imagine if you lost your home and everything you own and your insurance company told you that your policy covered it, but it wouldn’t pay on your claim because it was a little short on money. That’s the real issue here, which is why Chris Christie was a little irked at Boehner for not bringing the bill to the floor in the final days of the 112th Congress. If you haven’t seen it (or want to see it again), here’s what Christie had to say about it (we’ll wait for ya, it’s worth it.)
So, after the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote a blog post about how some of our Republican Congressmen voted against this bill in vitally needed aid, the Members began spinning. The prize for the most disingenuous argument against Congressman Steve Chabot:
“Hurricane Sandy was a devastating event for millions of Americans, and it is important that we focus on the victims’ recovery efforts so they can continue to rebuild their lives, homes and businesses.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with ‘emergency’ spending bills, this relief bill contained billions in spending that has little to do with these relief efforts. Much of this additional spending consists of regular budget items that should go through the proper appropriations channels. For example, the bill contained funding for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to improve its weather research and forecasting tools, and to upgrade its reconnaissance aircraft. (emphasis added.)
Designating such funding as an ‘emergency’ and bypassing the normal budget process is inappropriate, unnecessarily adds billions to the deficit and diverts funding away from those Americans truly in need.”
There were multiple reasons why this bill did not need to go through the regular congressional committee process. The first is because a natural disaster is, by definition, an emergency that should not wait for the usual, lengthy congressional committee process.
Second, despite the first reason, it already had undergone that process in the 112th Congress that just ended earlier this week. There was no absolute value to having it go back through that process again simply because a new Congress was sworn in.
Third, is it really that outrageous to think that Congress in a disaster relief bill regarding a horrible storm, might want to take the opportunity to appropriate money to aid in the monitoring, research, and forecasting of such disasters? Isn’t this kind of like voting against the declaration of war against Japan after Pearl Harbor because the bill appropriated money to provide Naval stations with radar?
But this is the most important problem with Chabot’s justification:
The bill contained no additional appropriations.
No weather aircraft. No monitoring stations. Just flood insurance. That’s it.
Here’s the entire text of the body of HR 41:
H. R. 41
To temporarily increase the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for carrying out the National Flood Insurance Program.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. TEMPORARY INCREASE IN BORROWING AUTHORITY FOR NATIONAL FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM.
(a) Section 1309(a) of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 4016(a)) is amended by striking `$20,725,000,000′ and inserting `$30,425,000,000′.
(b) The amount provided by this section is designated by the Congress as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 403(a) of S. Con. Res. 13 (111th Congress), the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2010, and as an emergency pursuant to section 4(g) of the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010 (2 U.S.C. 933(g)).
That’s it. That’s all the bill said. That’s not a summary or an interpretation. That’s the full text of the bill. Do you see anything about any appropriations? Nope. The U.S. Senate passed it by unanimous consent. No amendments. That’s all that’s going to President Obama’s desk for him to sign into law.
Now either Steve Chabot lied to the Cincinnati Enquirer and his constituents, or he failed to bother to read this one-page piece of legislation before voting on it and receiving incredible inaccurate information about it. So, he’s either a dishonest politician trying to spin his way out of a controversial vote, or an incompetent one…
Then again, Chabot’s always had a reputation of having a hard time facing facts.
Meanwhile Wenstrup, who replaced Jean Schmidt, has already shown he’s no improvement over her. Earlier this week, Schmidt voted against the overwhelmingly bipartisan compromise to avoid sending out country over the fiscal cliff and into a recession. Wenstrup voted against relief for Sandy because:
“I voted against this bill, which would increase the program’s borrowing authority by $9.7 billion, because it was not offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget; nor did it advance the necessary structural reforms to a program that is already in debt.”
The program is in debt because it’s still dealing with the high costs of Katrina and the changes to its premiums, charging more to insure vacation homeowners who live in high-risk (i.e. hurricane) areas, has not had time to start making a dent in the debt its had to accrue for paying on more in claims than it has been allowed, by Congressional action, to collect in premiums.
The program collects $3.5 billion in premiums a year. However, it incurred $17.7 billion in insured loss claims from hurricanes in 2005 (including Katrina) alone. The private insurance companies that sell and underwrite the policies collect around $1 billion, despite taking no real risks in such policies. [Source: New York Times, “Flood Insurance, Already Fragile, Faces New Stress,” November 12, 2012.]
The best way to shore up the program would be for Congress to actually appropriate money to allow FEMA to update flood maps, allow it to increase premiums to reflect its real exposure to insured risks, make it harder for communities in the programs to fight actions to mitigate the flooding risks by the Army Corps of Engineers, and to force state and local communities in the programs to be more strict about enforcing code provisions designed to deal flooding risks.
That’s how you responsibly deal with the National Flood Insurance Program’s debt. You don’t just simply tell hundreds of thousand of premium-paying insurance holders, who are fellow Americans, voters, and taxpayers who are now homeless through no fault of their own: “Sorry about your loss, but we’re not paying you for your lost home. Your policy is worthless, but thanks for your premiums.”
So much for thinking “Bad Brad” Winstrup could be an improvement over “Mean Jean.”