American people ‘here to help,’ but not these 3 Ky. congressmen

Three Kentuckians — congressmen Andy Barr, James Comer and Thomas Massie — were among a minority of Republicans who last week voted against an aid package for victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires.

Their votes didn’t matter to the outcome. The measure easily cleared the House 353-69 and awaits action in the Senate.

But their votes should matter to Kentuckians who would never withhold help from people suffering through an emergency.

And it is still an emergency — from the Atlantic to the Pacific — for Americans who have been battered by fire and rain. In a two-month span, three record-breaking hurricanes and California’s deadliest-ever wildfires have created huge recovery and rebuilding costs.

In Puerto Rico, people are still struggling just to survive. A month after Hurricane Maria, most of the island remains without power and almost a third lacks drinkable water.

Last week, the U.S. House approved a $36.5 billion emergency aid package for Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, all of which were hammered by storms, and for communities in California devastated by wildfires that have killed 41 people. The package also includes debt forgiveness for the National Flood Insurance Program, enabling the program to keep paying claims.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the government needs to ensure Puerto Rico can “begin to stand on its own two feet” and do more to help the U.S. territory rebuild its economy.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said, “In times like these, there is no question — the American people and their government are here to help.”

Well, not everyone is here to help. Barr, Comer and Massie are more motivated by a rigid budget-cutting ideology and by marching orders from right-wing groups such as Heritage Action which called for rejecting the emergency aid until the flood insurance program is reformed.

Barr’s office told us that he viewed the aid package as a bailout for the flawed flood insurance program and opposed the relief bill because it contained not “even a single” reform to protect “the next generation of Americans” from having to foot the bill when the flood-insurance program requires future bailouts.

We’re all for reforming the federal flood insurance program which, as it now stands, wastes taxpayers’ money by subsidizing development in flood-prone areas. Support for reforming the program is strong across the political spectrum.

But defaulting on existing claims isn’t an option. And the moment to debate reform’s details isn’t when victims are still picking through the rubble that was their homes or drinking contaminated water because it’s all they can get.

Likewise, Congress has time to figure out how to pay for — and prevent — the rising costs of recovering from natural disasters exacerbated by poor planning. Congress can, and should, do that without making suffering Americans wait for help.

Lexington Herald-Leader