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Chan Lowe: Flood insurance premium hikes

Old timers may remember a 1967 movie, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. It addressed the topic of interracial marriage, which was controversial at the time.


Hepburn and Tracy play a wealthy, liberal socialite San Francisco couple whose young, virginal, very white daughter returns from a trip having met Poitier, a doctor. She introduces him to her parents, and informs them that they are betrothed. The rest of the movie concerns the emotional travails that Tracy, in particular, puts himself through in order to reconcile himself to his daughter’s plans.


At one point in the film, Tracy goes off to have a drink with a conservative friend of his, in order to offload some of his stress. The friend says, with considerable schadenfreude, “I always enjoy seeing a liberal having to come face to face with his convictions.”


That’s similar, I would imagine, to what’s going on with the flood insurance premium hikes. The program was instituted to create affordable insurance for people who live in coastal areas and inland river flood plains, so that they could rebuild after a catastrophic event. It was supposed to be self-sustaining, but has turned out to be a huge money-loser for the federal government, especially due to repetitive claims. Those with beachfront residences that get hammered by frequent storms, for example, use it to rebuild their high-end digs in exactly the same locations where the previous ones were washed out. Those of lesser means do the same, but with less fiscal impact.


As of today, premiums will rise — in some cases tenfold — in order that this program might become solvent.


A lot of folks who can ill afford it are about to suffer serious financial pain. So will those in fancy beachfront homes who can more easily handle the increases, but will not be happy about them. The latter tend to be Republican, and while Republicans in Congress detest government support programs (unless they’re farm subsidies or other corporate welfare), they hate making collateral damage out of big campaign donors.


Back to Spencer Tracy. When it comes to your political convictions, be careful what you wish for. If there’s enough screaming about these new rates, we may see a rare bipartisan effort to keep this program affordable, deficit be damned.


That is, if government can get itself up and running again.


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