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Honorable Mark Sanford

Representing the 1st District of South Carolina

Vote Notes: Disaster Relief Package

Oct 12, 2017
Blog Post

Bad policy makes things worse. Once vibrant economies - like Venezuela’s - have been crushed under the weight of bad policy choices, and it’s a reminder to everyone of us how much government really does matter.

It’s kind of like oxygen. When you don’t need it, you don’t think about it...but try a few moments without it, and you’re gasping fast.

The analogy I’m trying to draw applies to today’s vote on a disaster relief package. It is bad policy that will make things worse. It included loans for Puerto Rico, money to fight western state wildfires, and the canceling of $16 billion in National Flood Insurance Program debt.

It set a number of bad precedents that each of us as taxpayers should be very concerned about. In fact, I think it set the seeds of financial disregard that will in time morph reaction to the current disaster in Puerto Rico to financial destruction for each of us as taxpayers here in the states.

Let me explain.

One, it simply cancels $16 billion of National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) debt. Let me say that again, it simply cancels $16 billion of National Flood Insurance Program debt.

Are you kidding me? If solving our debt problem was as easy as simply wishing it away, we could all be millionaires and the federal government would be running a surplus! Unfortunately, there is a thing called gravity...and it works. There’s also a thing called math, and it works too. In the world of accounting, debits have to equal credits. In short, one plus one has to equal two. Yet only in Washington can people be so dreamy as to believe that we can just wish away $16 billion dollars. In fact, the money does not disappear. It is simply moved on the ledger from the trust fund to the national debt. This is crazy. Nothing got erased. Nothing got cancelled. The accounting entry was simply moved from the trust fund to the national debt that you and I own and owe. This was nothing more than moving something from your left pocket to your right pocket, and pretending that the process of doing so made the money disappear.

More to the point, it’s horrible precedent. It’s never been done here before, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this precedent will be used in other instances with equally harmful effect to the money that each of us are liable for with the national debt.

Two, it loaned the government of Puerto Rico $4.9 billion. Again, are you kidding me? The government of Puerto Rico has declared bankruptcy and is currently operating under the control of a financial control board. This again is a Washington trick. Something that is in no way a loan is labeled as such so that the financial effect of the bill doesn’t show up. It would have been one thing to say that we were making a grant to the government of Puerto Rico based on the disaster that has taken place. It’s another to try and fake out the taxpayer by labeling something a loan that has zero chance of being repaid.

Three, this bill upended the democratic process that is built into congressional committees. Jeb Hensarling, the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, gave an impassioned plea a few days ago at the Republican Conference that we include the reforms to the national flood insurance program that had passed his committee. In fairness, I’m not a fan of all of those reforms, but if we’re ever going to stem the tide of red ink in the way we fund emergencies, we have got to make reforms to the system. There is no greater chance of enacting reform than at the time that you’re going to offer sweeteners to the constituencies that will be affected by reform. This was one of those moments, and we let it pass.

More significantly, though, leaving aside the merits and demerits of what was in their reform package, is a larger debate on democratic principles. Congressional committees are representative. They’re not perfect, but they take from a variety of different perspectives and come to a conclusion. If we don’t stick with the bottom-up approach in the way that ideas are dealt with in Congress, we’re left with something much less democratic - and that’s decisions from the top. That’s a whole lot closer to autocracy than democracy, and this bill had a lot of it when leadership can go around committee findings and pick and choose the things that go into a bill like this.

Finally, this bill was not paid for. This was not the final hangup for me; it was simply the last straw on a pile of straws that had already broken the camel’s back. Accordingly, I voted no...along with 68 of my Republican colleagues, but the bill passed anyway by a vote of 353 to 69.