A single senator, Jim Bunning, R-Ky., has derailed final approval of the programs' extensions over concerns about how to pay for them, especially the extension of unemployment benefits.
The result is that the programs could be in limbo for about a week while the Senate finds a way to get the job done. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will not be able to issue new policies, increase coverage or approve renewal policies until Congress approves reauthorization [Andrew G. Simpson, "Flood Insurance Program Closed; No policies Until Senate Votes," Insurance Journal, 2010.03.01].
Now I can almost sympathize with Senator Bunning's argument that he just wants to be fiscally responsible and force spending cuts elsewhere to offset the cost of the flood insurance and other programs requiring extension. But Senator Bunning has already gone along with several previous extensions. Had he thrown up a delay back in December, it might have been no big deal. But every day you can't sign up for a policy in March is another day for the sun to shine and the water to rise before your policy kicks in.
Bunning's insurance delay almost seems calculated to throw a monkey wrench in the economic recovery.
"While this lapse in the flood insurance program will likely be corrected retroactively this week in the Senate, it is disappointing," said Mike Becker, federal affairs director for the Professional Insurance Agents. "Insurance agents and their clients who need flood insurance are now at a disadvantage. Many real estate transactions require flood insurance, and the NFIP is the sole source for more than 95 percent of the flood coverage nationwide. We could see real estate closings delayed until this is fixed" [Simpson, 2010].
As we try to come out of the recession, why would any legislator do anything to slow down home sales? Consider that the other programs Bunning is blocking, especially unemployment insurance, have been shown to be among the most effective economic stimulus tools available, and it looks all the more like Bunning is putting a gun to the economy's head, just to make a political point.
When the water's rising, you don't ask how much sandbags will cost. Protecting Americans from floods—not to mention fixing the economy—is vastly more important than an accounting argument.
Update 10:06 CST: Senator Bunning gets a chance this morning to end his damaging roadblock; he declines. The harm Bunning's obstructionism may do:
- 1.2 million workers lose unemployment benefits
- 90,000 construction lose jobs as highway programs go on hold
- 2 million families lose access to local television
"It's hard to argue with a senator who wants to become fiscally responsible, and we should be paying for as much as possible. I respect the right of each senator to hold up major legislation," Graham said. "However, when it comes to unemployment benefits, I don't think it's fair to punish people who've already lost their jobs. You have to be realistic sometimes. The money is running out.
"For people who have lost their jobs, unemployment benefits may be the only income they've got. . . . I'm willing to move forward to help them" [David Lightman and Halimah Abdullah, "Who really gets hurt from 'hold' by GOP's Bunning?," McClatchy via Yahoo News, 2020.03.02]
Update 10:32 CST: A Washington D.C. mortgage specialist tries to assure us the flood insurance freeze won't hamper home closings. Madison flood insurance expert Rod Goeman jumps into the comment section to take the speaker to task and brand this delay an "unforgivable" risk for homeowners.
Update 15:35 CST: Even Bunning's fellow Republicans realize his obstructionism is bad for the country, not to mention the GOP brand.
Update 2010.03.03 08:24 CST: Bunning caves... and CBS's Bob Schieffer explains that Bunning was acting out of a political grudge, not principle.