Tuesday, May 16, 2006


The problem with those who oppose flood insurance reform -- and for that matter, many of those who argue for it, as well -- is that everyone seems to be driven by a "me-first" mentality.
If any good should come out of the unusually severe flooding in New England it's a broader public understanding of the importance of the National Flood Insurance Program and a stronger coalition favoring rational reform and improvement of FEMA.

But don't hold your breath. In yesterday's New York Times, reporters Christopher Drew and Joseph B. Treaster identified two major forces opposing reform and improvement of the National Flood Insurance Program:
"The drive to restructure the perennially underfinanced program has been blocked by real estate interests [and] lawmakers from areas that rarely flood who see their constituents as supporting those who are frequently flooded, particularly in the South."
The real estate people, we're told, fear that updated, realistic flood zone maps will reduce the market and increase the expense of home ownership. The "regional rivalries" arise between politicians in the drier states and those in wetter ones. This is illustrated by a particularly egregious remark uttered by one Michigan congresswoman:
"You've got people living in dry areas paying for people who want to keep living in wet ones," said Representative Candice S. Miller, Republican of Michigan. "They're sticking it to us, and I don't like to be stuck."
Oddly enough, congressman Miller is from a moderately populous district on the eastern shore of Saginaw Bay. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, substantial parts of what is now her district experienced devastating floods in 1904, 1947, 1975, and 1986.

Apparently, Miller doesn't know her district's history well enough to appreciate what that could mean in the years ahead. But you can be sure that when it happens you'll see her elbowing her way to the front of the trough.

The problem with those who oppose flood insurance reform -- and for that matter, many of those who argue for it, as well -- is that everyone seems to be driven by a "me-first" mentality. Few take account of the larger needs of the nation or, for that matter, the generations to come.

Even the assessment such people make of their own self-interest is measured with a broken yardstick that is often no longer than the next election cycle. Is it really true that updating flood zone maps would increase the expense of home ownership? No more than paying less for a gas guzzler makes owning a car cheaper. What an honest updating of NFIP flood maps would do is candidly express the real expense, and risks, of owning a home.

Indeed, as Drew and Treaster point out, the very kind of shortsightedness exhibited by Congresswoman Miller is what created the problems now afflicting the NFIP:
"Those same lobbying pressures and regional rivalries have helped create an insurance plan that has consistently defied the central rule of how to succeed in the insurance trade: have enough policyholders paying enough in premiums to spread out the risk and build a financial cushion against disaster."
As former NFIP director J. Robert Hunter told the Times, shackles placed by Congress decades ago on the program made sure the NFIP --
"... hasn't come close to its promise of insuring everyone who's in danger of being flooded, reducing the cost of disasters for the federal government or making sure the program ultimately pays its own way.

"It's like a trip through the looking glass. Everything is backwards."
What? Congress is gazes through a distorted looking glass? Well, whoever do you suppose it is who keeps electing those idiots and sending them to Washington to do more damage?

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