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National Flood Insurance Program Enhanced Borrowing Authority Act of 2005

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Location: Washington DC


NATIONAL FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM ENHANCED BORROWING AUTHORITY ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - September 08, 2005)

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, preliminarily, I yield myself 1 minute just to introduce as our first speaker the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Blumenauer).

The gentleman from Ohio correctly noted that we made our committee and the Congress follow some very substantial improvements from the standpoint both of fiscal responsibility and environmental sensitivity to the flood insurance program. Now, we obviously did not have in mind at that point something of this particular disastrous consequence, but we did put into the law, for the first time really, some of the environmentally important issues that should be there. I am hoping that elsewhere, as we go through the appropriations process, that program will be fully funded, particularly in the proposals for mitigation.

But on our side, it was a genuinely bipartisan issue. The former Member, the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Bereuter), collaborated with the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Blumenauer).

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Obviously, there is a great degree of support in the Congress for getting the money out right away. We have people who were victims of this flood, and they have been victims in a number of ways. This is one small piece of the compensation that goes to them. There will be people who will be uncompensated, people who did not have flood insurance, people who are not able to make the kind of partial payment that is required, but the least we can do is to make this payment.

But as we vote quickly to send this money, we need to work in the next few weeks and months to deal with and resolve some broader questions.

I believe that the country has suffered over the past decade, and it is particularly suffering now, from a philosophy that has undervalued the need for us as a civilized people to come together and work together on some things. We are a society run, to a great extent, according to the principles of the free market of private capital. It is a wonderful system for generating wealth. The goods and services that are produced through the free market system benefit all of us, and that free market system leads to the best possible production.

The problem comes with people who are so enamored of that system that they value it not only for what it does, but for what it does not do, is not supposed to do, and should not be burdened with trying to do. That is, there are in this society a number of very important values that we have as civilized people with a moral commitment to each other's well-being that can only be done if we pool our resources.

Let us take the specific issue we are now talking about: insurance. The insurance industry is a private industry. It is an industry that provides important services to people, that provides jobs for people, that pools resources and provides investment capital. But even in the area of insurance, we have recognized historically, there are some gaps.

The very existence of the Federal Flood Insurance Program, which we are here today financing, is an acknowledgment that there are limits to the private system. Private insurance, we have decided as a society, cannot handle the flood question, so the government must step in. I say that because it has become fashionable to denounce government, to take credit for less government. Well, less government, what does that mean? Less FEMA, less flood insurance, less for the Corps of Engineers?

This is an example. We are here today to provide more government. We are here today to provide public resources, $2 billion. By the way, this $2 billion, we are authorizing the flood insurance program to borrow it. They are going to borrow it from the Treasury. They will be borrowing it from the Treasury which will, of course, in turn borrow it from the capital markets, from the American people, from China, and from everybody else who lends us money. That is the second point I want to make.

As we now acknowledge after this terrible disaster and an inadequate response to the disaster, partly caused by a failure to appreciate the importance of our coming together through government to perform important functions, we will be spending a great deal of additional money. We are adding this $2 billion, I assume, to the deficit, let us be clear.

We are not having any offsets. And this is a very small part of what we are doing. The time has come to recognize that we have over these past years left this Federal Government with too little in the way of resources to carry out our purposes. And we talk a lot about values and about the moral purposes we seek to achieve. I believe strongly that morality ought to be an element of public policy. I believe that we have not fulfilled our moral duty to the poorest people and working people and lower middle income people in New Orleans and elsewhere who have not been treated fairly as they were victimized.

That is a moral question. It is a moral question when people are left behind because they do not have the resources to leave and other people leave. It is a moral question when people are not rescued when they could be rescued. It is a moral question when we let people live now in conditions brought about by this flood that are not decent conditions for human beings.

And part of the answer, not all of the answer, but a necessary part of the answer is for the government to have the resources. And those who subscribe to the view that we must here in this House carry out our moral duty to each other should understand one of our moral duties right now is to go to people in need, to people who are frail, who are ill, who are young, who are old, who are in good health, but who have been reduced by physical forces to circumstances that no one of us would want to live in.

And only if we come together through this mechanism called government, and only if we give this mechanism called government resources, tax money, because that is where the money comes from, will we have the capacity to discharge our fundamental moral duty. We talk a lot about family values. Let us value the families that have been so badly battered by this hurricane and whose condition was exacerbated by an inadequate response by the rest of the country.

I cannot think of a better demonstration of family values than to go to the families living in Astrodomes and Superdomes and other places, hardly adequate for a family to live in. Let us go show our family values by doing whatever we can. We can never make people whole in the situation, but let us try to alleviate their misery.

Well, again, we are borrowing $2 billion today, and I am glad we are doing that because we need to get to their aid. But it is a very small part of what we need to do. But I hope that this $2 billion will not stay borrowed. This $2 billion, a very small piece of what we need to do, underlines the importance of our, let me put it this way.

We have, I think, a greater recognition of the value of government than we used to. I have not heard anybody today boast about how much they have reduced government. Indeed, I have heard virtually universal insistence that the government has got to do more in housing. We have got to do a better job with the Corps of Engineers, and we have got to do a better job with the EPA to deal with the terrible environmental problems that will result from this. We have to increase Medicaid funding at the Federal level for some of the States that are receiving people. We have to provide more funding for education. We are going to have to rebuild streets; we are going to have to pay police officers overtime.

There will be enormous demands on this government for money. And what does that mean? It means enormous demands that we recognize our moral obligation to each other and each other's families to alleviate the effects of the disaster. Let us not just borrow that money. Let us not just add it to the deficit. The time has come to say that we have left ourselves inadequately prepared to deal with this.

For anyone, an individual, a company, a nonprofit institution or a government to live deliberately and consciously on the edge is irresponsible, but that is what we have done to ourselves in this country. We have so reduced the resources available to this Federal Government that when this terrible disaster hit, we left ourselves inadequately prepared financially to deal with it. We did not do enough because of financial problems in the past.

But let us now say, okay, we now understand this. There is a war going on in Iraq. I opposed it, but the war is there, and it imposes costs on us. There is still an effort in Afghanistan which I supported. Now we have this disaster. The time has come to recognize that this government, the instrument of our collective moral capacity in this instance, and volunteers will be very helpful, and I salute the volunteers who have done this.

But no one thinks that individual volunteerism is going to resolve this crisis. There needs to be a common effort, coordinated and organized; and that means government. So for those who have joined in the insistence that we spend more, we have spent $50 billion in the supplemental, $2 billion here, and then we will do more in housing. And the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Ney), who has been a great leader for us in the housing area, his committee. As we sit here today and stand here today, in another part of this complex a meeting is going on. The gentleman from Ohio, to his credit, convened all of the groups dealing with housing, low-income advocates, public officials, manufactured housing, homebuilders, people who finance housing. They are giving us an important set of ideas about how to respond.

Now, some of them can be done by cutting red tape and by giving flexibility. They do not all cost money. But some of them cost money. You cannot take people who have lost physical homes and house them decently without money. So we have in every area virtually where the Federal Government is involved a need to spend more money. The height of irresponsibility would be, it seems to me, to join in this insistence on spending more money and to refuse to address the revenue problems of the government.

How can you be in favor of spending hundreds of billions perhaps, certainly well over a hundred billion extra in addition to everything else we have been spending, but say, oh, and by the way let us cut some more revenue from the government. Let us leave the government less able to do this. And understand that people said, well, it will be a deficit and we can live with a deficit.

This absence of resources puts a constraint on spending. Of course spending should not be wasteful. But it is clear, if you look, I have been here, we have done these appropriations, and appropriations chairman after appropriations chairman has come up and said, you know, I agree, we do not have enough money here. I wish we had more money for housing. I wish we had more money for transportation. I wish we could have done more for medical research. I wish we could have done more for environmental cleanup. But given the budgets, that is all we could do.

In other words, the self-imposed restriction has hurt us. Previously, it was maybe a philosophical debate. Today, it is a moral necessity. It simply is not, it seems to me, morally acceptable, it is not in consonance with family values to continue to deprive ourselves of the resources we need to meet these needs. And so I support this two billion, and I will support many billions more, tens of billions more. But I will also support changing some of the policies of the past.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I look forward to continuing to work with the gentleman from Ohio who has been one of the Members who has not been willing to give up our responsibility, and we will work together.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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