This past week reckless spending in Washington continued. President Trump authorized $12 billion for American farmers to soften the short-term blow of his international crusade on tariffs and trade deals. Not to be outdone by the administration, the House and Senate passed a four-month extension to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is over $20 billion in debt despite getting a $16 billion bailout just four months ago. For different reasons, both of these examples represent the epitome of Washington's willingness to spend money no matter how misguided.
American farmers are the most effective and efficient producers in the world. The nation's farmers and ranchers know they can compete with other producers anywhere in the world. The president's current trade and tariff battle, while bringing the European Union and others to the bargaining table, has created tremendous angst and uncertainty for farmers. To alleviate that worry, $12 billion was authorized by the administration.
While the dollars were undoubtedly helpful, most farmers bristle at receiving what many call a government bailout. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called the $12 billion "golden crutches." What farmers and ranchers, in Utah and across the nation really want is access to markets and opportunities to compete. They don't want to be paid not to produce. Sen Sasse concluded, "Farmers don't want to be paid to lose but want to win by feeding the world."
Most Americans don't even know what NFIP is or what it does. It is in essence an insurance program monopoly run by the government for homes in "flood plains," which carries a very loose interpretation such that any home along water could qualify. While providing flood insurance coverage to some modest and even humble homeowners, the vast majority of homes covered under the program are incredibly expensive. The benefits of this long-standing taxpayer-funded program primarily go to the wealthy.
The four-month extension of NFIP sailed through the House of Representatives. In the Senate, bipartisan amendments by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nevada; Jon Tester, D-Montana; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee didn't even get votes. The unwillingness of Senate leadership to even consider amendments to a program that is $20 billion in the hole and has no path to improvement is unacceptable and inexcusable. This type of preservation of the status quo perpetuates the perception that only the wealthy and well-connected are being represented in Congress.
Lee described his very modest proposal this way, "The amendment would have capped eligibility for NFIP insurance at homes worth $2.5 million. Anything under that, home owners can still enjoy their cut-rate premiums. But taxpayers should not pay any amount of coverage for the top 1 percent that can afford a $2.5 million-dollar beach home." Lee took to the Senate floor to implore his colleagues to take up his and other reform amendments. He concluded saying, "This is not too much for the American people to ask — either of their affluent, flood-prone neighbors, or of their sworn representatives in Congress."
A nation that is $20 trillion in debt must take every possible step to get its financial house in order. Spending $12 billion for farmers who really just want access to markets to compete in and $20 billion for a mere four-month extension to a failing program that the private sector should run both represent misguided spending. Real debate about real reform on how taxpayer money is spent is desperately needed.