Democrats Bash McCain’s Catastrophe Fund Opposition

Jun 6, 2008

Tampa Tribune--June 6, 2008

By BILLY HOUSE The Tampa Tribune

WASHINGTON – The Barack Obama campaign and Florida Democrats on Thursday attacked Sen. John McCain’s opposition to a national insurance catastrophic fund.

They sought not only to underscore the difference between the candidates on a key Florida issue, but to tie McCain to George Bush.

The state Democratic Party unveiled an online ad with footage of McCain boasting in a February speech to a conservative group that he campaigned in Florida against a “cat fund.”

In addition, the Obama campaign in a news release questioned whether McCain understands the issue. McCain “has made clear that he is much more interested in standing with George Bush than getting the facts right or doing what’s right,” said a news release from Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan.

The Democrats seized on the opportunity at a time when McCain is seeking to emphasize his differences with the unpopular president.

McCain sought distance from the administration in a speech in New Orleans on Tuesday, and will do so again by emphasizing his environmental credentials in an appearance in the Everglades today.

Bush has said he would veto a national catastrophe fund, which would provide backup for insurance companies facing huge claims after disasters including hurricanes and earthquakes.

Florida Democrats also brought Gov. Charlie Crist, McCain’s top Florida backer, into the picture. Crist has been discussed as a possible McCain running mate.

Democratic state House leader Dan Gelber told reporters he is “dumbfounded” that Crist has not done more to persuade the Arizona senator to support a cat fund.

Crist Hopes To Persuade McCain

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds fired back, saying Obama “has chosen to use natural catastrophes to launch political attacks.”

He said McCain opposes a cat fund “not because he doesn’t have serious concerns about the cost of insurance in Florida, but because it ignores the need for private insurance reforms to broaden markets and protections against the cherry-picking of individual states.”

He noted that Crist was aware of McCain’s stand before the state’s Jan. 29 primary. McCain won that primary, despite his anti-cat fund stance, with help from a key endorsement by Crist.

Crist said at the time that he would seek to persuade McCain on the issue, and that he considered McCain trustworthy and honest on that and other issues.

Crist has identified the program as one of his top federal priorities. Asked this year about his efforts to sway McCain, he told The Tampa Tribune, “It takes time to do good things.”

Crist’s office didn’t give any further response Thursday.

In a February speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, McCain noted that he opposed the idea while campaigning in Florida, and that he also campaigned in Iowa against agriculture subsidies and in New Hampshire “against big government-mandated health care.”

McCain said that shows he’ll stick to his conservative convictions on smaller government, fiscal discipline and low taxes, despite political risk.

Footage of that speech found its way into the Democrats’ online advertisement at

Obama Supports National Fund

McCain opposed a cat fund bill that passed in the House, sponsored by Democratic freshman Florida Reps. Ron Klein of Boca Raton and Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach Gardens.

Obama, meanwhile, has strongly supported a national catastrophe fund since before Florida’s primary.

In a Jan. 17 letter to Klein, who questioned the presidential candidates on their position, Obama said he enthusiastically supports the idea.

He said stabilizing “the catastrophe insurance market by expanding the capacity of the private insurance market to cover a natural disaster” would help states manage risk and stabilize premiums for homeowners.

“I will commit to supporting this legislation as president” if necessary, he added.

Last month, Obama signed on as a co-sponsor to a cat fund amendment by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana were also co-sponsors.

Gelber and Klein joined Obama campaign officials Thursday in a conference call with reporters, identifying skyrocketing hurricane insurance as one of Florida’s great homeowner problems.

Klein said McCain has overstated the potential cost of the program to taxpayers, just “tossing out a number.”

McCain was quoted in a Jan. 23 news article as saying he was “not in favor of spending $200 billion a year simply for the state of Florida.”

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost at about $25 million a year.

Klein also criticized McCain for saying he would improve the Federal Emergency Management Agency instead of creating a cat fund.

Klein noted that FEMA has little or nothing to do with insurance.

“It’s unclear to me how Sen. McCain has come to the realization that FEMA is the answer,” Klein said. He said McCain appears uninformed or “not speaking honestly” on the issue.