THE BLOG
11/01/2013 05:31 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The GOP's Insurance Hypocrisy

For most of last month, a group of committed tea party Republicans helped shut down the government to hold back a wave of subsidies and regulations set to take effect under Obamacare. But now, in a clear irony, many of those same members are standing up to expand the subsidies offered by the one outright socialist insurance program the federal government maintains: The National Flood Insurance Program.

While I'm no fan of Obamacare, to say the least, the truth is that it's not really accurate to call the law "a government takeover of health care," no matter how often conservative commentators say it is. In the end, the law merely adds poorly conceived and counter-productive regulations and subsidies to a market that was already shot through with them. Indeed, mixed with its plethora of bad ideas, there are even a few good ones, like cutting back the awful Medicare Advantage program and letting small employers purchase health insurance on terms similar to big ones.

The 45-year-old NFIP is another story altogether. Unlike Obamacare -- which essentially leaves doctors, hospitals and insurers to operate in a (more highly regulated) private market -- the NFIP is single-payer government program, in which federal officials in Washington set rates and taxpayers assume all the risks.

The program currently owes U.S. taxpayers almost $28 billion, hasn't made a payment against principal in three years and has no feasible way to ever back its debt. In the process of ringing up that debt, the NFIP has provided direct subsidies to build and live in the most flood-prone regions of the country, including by draining sensitive wetlands and developing barrier islands that would otherwise serve as natural storm buffers.

There's no clear reason why the government should be providing anybody with flood insurance at subsidized rates. The program's manifest problems are a reason why, in 2012, overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress passed a series of modest reforms to the NFIP: raising rates on vacation homes, businesses and properties taxpayers have already rebuilt, while also ensuring that the program's maps are accurate and up-to-date.

But now that higher bills are coming due, plenty of members of Congress are crying foul and trying to roll back the reforms. This wouldn't be so surprising if the complaints emerged solely from the likes of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. (who actually co-authored the reforms), a down-the-line liberal with a long history of supporting government giveaways.

But the pushback caucus also includes plenty of so-called "fiscal conservatives" from coastal states, whose constituents are finally being asked to flood insurance bills that reflect their actual risk. In the Senate, those signing on to delay or roll back NFIP reform include tea party favorites like Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and David Vitter, R-La. In the House, Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., has taken the lead on flood insurance rollback, and enticed tea party Republicans like Reps. Renne Ellmers, R-N.C., and Gregg Harper, R-Miss., to sign on as well.

If Republicans attacked subsidized flood Insurance with anything near the same ferocity they have devoted to Obamacare, the program would have been abolished years ago. Instead, many of them -- including many who claim strong conservative bona fides -- are defending it. That's a disgrace.