A political earthquake struck Washington last week with Rep. Eric Cantor’s defeat in Virginia’s GOP primary. The stunning loss has already been blamed on a myriad of factors, from Cantor’s support for immigration reform to low turnout in the district.
One angle that has gone unexamined, however, is Cantor’s critical role in undoing flood insurance reforms earlier this year. The reforms, passed in 2012 in the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, would have fixed a variety of problems in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides subsidized coverage to millions of Americans, including some in Cantor’s home state of Virginia. Many contend that, by subsidizing coastal properties, the program often subsidies the rich at the expense of American taxpayers.
The program, which now stands around $25 billion in debt, was already $19 billion underwater before the wreckage of caused by Hurricane’s Sandy and Katrina. Biggert-Waters would have enacted targeted reforms, such as raising policy rates to more accurate levels of risk, which would make the program more sustainable and less a burden on taxpayers.
Unfortunately, Congress this year caved to opposition to the new rates and largely reversed Biggert-Waters, putting NFIP and its policyholders in jeopardy. Rep. Cantor played a pivotal role in this battle, helping steer a bill through the House that would keep outdated rates in place. In doing so, he provoked fierce opposition from conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity. These groups – and about a dozen others who joined them – know that undoing flood reform would be fiscally irresponsible and lead our country into even deeper debt.
In contrast, his successful opponent, David Brat, won by pointing to Cantor’s voting record, including his vote to scale back flood reforms. He later noted his position on flood insurance as a contributing factor.
Rep. Cantor’s vote put politics above policy, and it is clear that the people of Virginia took notice. His defeat should be a warning shot to others who voted down badly needed flood program improvements: their political future could be as troubled as the reforms they helped sink.
Steve Pociask is president of the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research institute. For more information, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.