Vote Notes: H.R. 3823, the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act
Last night, I voted against H.R. 3823, the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017. I was one of seven Republicans who voted no, and given it was brought up under what’s called “suspension” - which requires a two-thirds majority for passage, the bill failed.
This simply means that it will be brought back up under normal procedure, and inevitably, most of what the bill was comprised of will pass.
I have voted for some portions of what was contained in the package of bills that this bill represented. For instance, if there had been simply a straight up or down vote to extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorization until March, I would have voted for it. This was not the case though, as disaster relief was added to a simple airway extension bill that would have easily passed.
Stopping and slowing the process I thought essential for the following reasons:
One, it deserved debate. Instead, this 60-page bill was introduced on the day that it was brought to a vote, leaving no time for hearings, the possibility of amendments...or even review.
Two, what happens next in disaster relief and flood insurance matters greatly to people along the coast of South Carolina. It matters greatly to each of us as taxpayers, and yet there were a host of unintended consequences that were built into this rushed approach to disaster tax relief.
Let’s examine them for a moment.
Last time I checked, a disaster is a disaster...is a disaster. Yet this bill would actually discriminate against different flood victims and give tax relief to the victims of some storms and not others. This is very important because the homes that I visited last week at Shadowmoss in many cases saw more flood damage than homes in Texas or Florida. But because we were not designated as a major disaster area, there would be no tax relief available for these residents. While we can’t change past law with regard to emergency declaration, the idea of passing new law that codifies different approaches to different storms is not something that I think makes common sense - or attends to the real needs of people who have been hurt in places like Louisiana or South Carolina. Congress should not be in the business of picking winners and losers with regard to storm loss, yet this bill would do exactly that.
It furthermore made the taxpayer liabilities that go with the Federal Flood Insurance Program worse. The saying is that if you’re in a hole and you want to get out, quit digging. This bill did the reverse as it relates to the $24.6 billion debt that has accumulated in the Flood Insurance Program. What it would do for the first time is change the standard for flood insurance so that private insurers could write to a state rather than national standard. On its own, that could be a good thing. In the wake of two Category-4 storms hitting our country near simultaneously (something that’s never happened before) and creating what some say will be more than a $250 billion taxpayer liability, it could be horrendous.
As a practical matter, what this change to flood standards would then mean would be that private insurers could come in and cherry pick lower risk insurance policies. This would leave each of us as federal taxpayers not only with the existing $24 billion debt on the program...but a real cash flow squeeze to boot, based on Harvey and Maria. Think about it: existing premiums paid to the Federal Flood Insurance Program pay the debt on existing borrowings. If some of that money disappears, less money is available to pay the claims that will come not only with these existing storms - but with future storms as well.
So expect to see this one again...hopefully in a way that does less damage to each of us as taxpayers - and possible flood victims along the coast of South Carolina.