GOP platform calls for catastrophe fund McCain opposes

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 3, 2008 

ST. PAUL -- With a string of tropical depressions threatening to batter Florida, Republicans pointed with pride Tuesday to a plank in the party's platform that calls for a ''natural disaster insurance policy'' -- a provision GOP presidential nominee John McCain has opposed.

Florida Republicans said the mention of a catastrophe insurance fund -- part of the national party platform for the first time ever -- signals growing support for a federal insurance backstop, which has been a priority for Florida's congressional delegation since Hurricane Andrew ripped through Homestead in 1992.

''It's a nice little coup, it's a definite statement,'' said U.S. Rep. John Mica, a Central Florida Republican who served on the GOP platform committee in 1984 and said it's no easy task to insert language into the document. "Every little bit helps.''

The provision also reflects the GOP's determination to win the state in November. Adding the insurance language -- at a convention overshadowed by Hurricane Gustav -- aims to take some of the bite out of attacks from Democrats, whose nominee has supported a national insurance backstop.

Democrats, who tucked a more sweeping provision into their platform, applauded the GOP, but were quick to note that McCain has rejected calls for a national insurance program.

''John McCain needs to explain why he is saying one thing and his party is saying something else,'' said U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Florida, whose bill to create a national catastrophe fund cleared the U.S. House last November but is stalled in the Senate amid GOP opposition. "It's clearly not in sync with his position.''

On a visit to Coral Gables in January, McCain said he did not support a national catastrophe insurance policy, suggesting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was a form of insurance. Democrats set up a website, noting his stance put him at odds with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and most of the state's congressional delegation.

National committeeman Paul Senft said the language was devised in part to satisfy inland states, and Mica suggested McCain could endorse a scaled-down program, such as a regional insurance pool.

''He's a reasonable man,'' Mica said. "It may be open to compromise.''

Lawmakers from states not prone to natural disasters have opposed the measure, saying they do not want to pick up the tab for people living along the coast. The Bush administration has threatened to veto the legislation, saying it would disrupt the private market.

The Democratic Party platform specifically embraces the House legislation and Klein faulted the Republican platform for stopping short. The GOP language does not suggest a national insurance program, saying only that the party "recognize(s) the need for a natural disaster insurance policy.''

''Florida voters will not be satisfied with a mere nod to catastrophe insurance,'' Klein said.

Kathy King, a Florida delegate who served on the Republican platform committee said the platform drafters "intentionally did not legislate through the platform.

''The details would be up to our lawmakers,'' she said. The Manatee County resident acknowledged McCain has not supported the concept of a federally backed fund, ``but we still hope he'll come around on that.''

Democratic nominee Barack Obama endorsed Klein's plan during the primary and the Democratic Party platform says the party backs a "national catastrophic insurance fund to offer an affordable insurance mechanism for high-risk catastrophes that no single private insurer can cover by itself for fear of bankruptcy.''

Klein's legislation -- and its companion in the Senate -- would create a voluntary, market-driven catastrophe fund aimed at lowering the cost of insuring homes in states where the threat of hurricanes, earthquakes and other perils can send premiums skyrocketing. It also would make federal loans available to assist in the rebuilding of states hit by natural disasters.

State Rep. Marcelo Llorente, a Miami Republican who served one of five vice-chairs of the platform committee, said he expects McCain to warm to the idea.

''I think that Gov. Crist has talked to him about it and will continue to talk to him after the election,'' Llorente said. "I'm encouraged with the language, it's certainly a starting point.''

Party platforms are nonbinding on the candidates, and party strategists acknowledge that few people ever actually read them. But they provide a general outline of what the party wants to do, should it gain the White House.

They also serve to make political points: the Republicans' platform takes hawkish stances on the defense of Israel and Cuba, calling the Castro regime a "mummified relic from the age of totalitarianism, and its buffoonish imitators.''

The GOP platform continues its support for restrictions on travel to Cuba and calls for a ''dedicated platform'' to transmit Radio and Television Marti into Cuba.

The Democratic platform calls for ''unlimited family visits and remittances to the island,'' but says that Democrats would only ''take steps to begin normalizing relations'' with Cuba after the nation "takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners.''

The platforms do not always mirror the candidate's views: Llorente said McCain is more moderate on immigration than the party platform would suggest. The platform calls for calls for ''completing the border fence quickly'' and making English the country's official language.

Llorente said delegates from several states were able to defeat more stringent immigration restrictions, including calls to deny citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants in the United States and a proposal to only count legal residents in the U.S. census.

Hispanic Republicans have long cautioned the party against taking strident stances on immigration legislation and Llorente said he was relieved some of the proposals were rejected.

''It could have been much worse,'' Llorente said. "Party platforms are expected to reflect the core principals of party, but that doesn't mean individuals, or even the party's presidential nominees have to agree with all of it.''

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