Legislative Storm After The Storm

Weekly WastebasketLegislative Storm After The StormMore than Dorian in store for Congress

Hurricane Dorian is sweeping up the Atlantic Seaboard. The storm is bringing flood waters that many are not prepared for either physically or fiscally. Sadly, many people who are flooded will not have flood insurance. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again, most homeowner’s insurance doesn’t include flooding. And there are even fights as to what caused the damage, wind (covered) or flood (not). Ask Senator Lott.

We ran the numbers. In the coastal counties in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina affected by Dorian, there are 341,084 federal flood insurance policies, insuring $99,155,330,400 (that’s $99 billion) worth of property. But there are 1,302,906 housing units. That’s nearly four times as many housing units as policies. Some people may have private flood insurance, but that is still a small (but growing) market. The sad fact is that many people will find out they are not covered. This often means a financial disaster following the natural one. To underscore the point, FEMA indicated that after the large 2016 rainfall event in Baton Rouge, the average person with flood insurance got $86,500 for their property. The average person who didn’t have flood insurance got $9,100 in individual disaster assistance. You can’t rebuild your home, let alone your life, on $9,100.

The National Flood Insurance Program authorization expires at the end of the month. Congress needs to reform flood insurance to address repetitive loss properties, improve mapping, incentivize mitigation, and ease access to private flood insurance to move more of the burden off taxpayers. The program has borrowed nearly $40 billion from taxpayers to date. The House Financial Services Committee passed a modest reform measure earlier this year that the Senate can improve. Get on it.

But as much as we would like to talk about Dorian and how communities can prepare for the next one, Congress faces another storm. Lawmakers get back to town next week and they face a whirlwind of stuff that needs to be finished. Most immediate, the annual spending bills need to pass both chambers and be signed by the president in order to avoid yet another government shutdown. As bad as it was for the deficit, the recent budget deal paves the way. The debt ceiling is forgotten until 2021. A top line spending limit is set for next year and the year after (fiscal years 2020 and 2021). But the devil is in the details.

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The House has passed a passel of spending bills, some before there was a budget deal, so it’s not clear how they fit in the spending caps. The Senate hasn’t done much of anything yet. But they have to step it up to get some – any – bills done before the October 1st beginning of the fiscal year.

The administration’s decision to raid $3.6 billion worth of congressionally approved military construction projects to fund so-called “emergency” fencing on the southern border won’t help matters. Both Democrats and Republicans are howling about home state projects being sacrificed. And if Congress lacks confidence that whatever they appropriate won’t be routinely raided to fund administration priorities that can’t get through Congress, they will be loath to approve new funding. The House is already prepping a Continuing Resolution to fund the government for a few months.

That CR will likely be coupled with a disaster supplemental to deal with Dorian. Too often lawmakers are fast with the cash but slow or missing on the oversight. Being quick to write checks but absent in oversight leads to all kinds of problems. Spending items that aren’t really an emergency. Padding of agency wish lists. Or simply piles of unspent cash. What taxpayers really need is an accounting not just of Dorian but also of Sandy, Harvey, Maria, Michael spending, to name a few. Because it is not apparent anyone tracks anything.

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