Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Delaying flood insurance premium increases front and center in House and Senate

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., center, says the Senate should act on flood insurance before taking a one-week recess.

January 15, 2014

WASHINGTON - Wednesday could be a big day for efforts to delay large increases in flood insurance premiums
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had plans to bring a motion later Wednesday to begin debate on legislation that would delay the increases for four years. Under Senate rules, it would require unanimous consent -- meaning a single senator could object and block the measure from moving forward.
Also on the House and Senate is a spending bill with a more limited flood insurance provision -- delaying some increases through the end of the current fiscal year -- Sept. 30, 2014. 
It applies only to grandfathered policies, with homes remapped into higher risk classifications. The measure doesn't block increases for homes that are bought or sold after the law took effect -- some so dramatically as to make the new flood insurance rates unaffordable, according to members seeking for congressional action to delay the large hikes until Congress can come up with a long-term solution.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said it's important the Senate act before leaving town this weekend for a week-long recess. The rate changes are a result of 2012 Biggert-Waters law, designed to make the flood insurance program fiscally sound. It serves over 5 million people nationally.
"People are desperate to get an answer from Congress now," Landrieu said in floor remarks Wednesday morning. She is one of 29 sponsors of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is another sponsor.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the top Republican sponsor of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, said he's still working to meet the concerns of some Republicans, and urged Democrats to wait until he completes those discussions before bringing the bill up for debate. He said three Republicans currently have holds on the bill.
Landrieu said sponsors of the legislation are proposing a process that would allow votes on all germane amendments, and hope that Republicans will go along.
"There is disagreement, but not enough to block the strong coalition," Landrieu said of the 29 senators sponsoring the legislation.
Landrieu said it's important to act now because people who bought homes after the Bigger-Waters flood insurance reform law took effect in July 12 are now getting bills for flood insurance, in many cases many times the price that had been charged previously.
The issue is somewhat confusing because also on the floor today -- in both the House and Senate -- is an omnibus spending bill that would block some flood insurance increases for the remainder of 2014. 
Still, both Landrieu, and Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, author of the amendment on the grandfathered policies, said Congress ought to pass both measures. Cassidy is challenging Landrieu in the 2014 Louisiana Senate race.
Normally, a proposal to begin debate in the Senate only requires 60 votes. But because the Senate currently has a spending bill on its docket, any member could object to bringing up other legislation. It's known as the "one bill at a time" rule.

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