Wednesday, January 15, 2014
House passes spending bill with some flood insurance relief
Reps. Cedric Richmond, left, and Steve Scalise, split their votes on a spending bill with some relief for higher flood insurance premiums resulting from the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act.
WASHINGTON - The House Wednesday voted 359-67 for a $1.1 trillion spending bill that delays some premium hikes resulting from the 2012 Biggert-Waters flood insurance bill through Sept. 30, 2014. It is expected to pass the Senate by Friday.
But a planned effort by Senate proponents to bring up a bill offering a more comprehensive fix to sharply higher flood insurance premiums was put off when the bill's chief GOP sponsor said he needed more time to resolve concerns among some Republican senators. That bill would prevent most of the increases resulting from the 2012 flood insurance law for four years, allowing for completion of an affordability study before the hikes kick in.
Under Senate rules, bringing a bill up for debate while another bill is being considered requires unanimous consent -- meaning a single senator could object and block the measure from moving forward.
The House spending bill flood insurance provision 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 in July 2012.
Some of the hikes from the Biggert-Waters "sell and lose your subsidized rate" provision are so dramatic as to make the policies unaffordable, drying up house sales in some communities, according to the bill's sponsors.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., one of 29 Senate sponsors, said it's important the Senate act before leaving town this weekend for a week-long recess. "People are desperate to get an answer from Congress now," Landrieu said in floor remarks Wednesday in support of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act.
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.
One Republican who wants to propose an amendment to the Flood Insurance Affordability Act is Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who last year blocked an effort by Landrieu to move another bill delaying the increases through the Senate. His spokesman said Wednesday he has no information on what the amendment will say.
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. In some communities, the higher rates are stalling home sales.
The Senate effort has produced some confusion because it comes at the same time that a giant spending bill is moving forward, with a provision that would block some flood insurance increases for the remainder of 2014. The proposal, authored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, would bar FEMA from spending its 2014 budget allotment to implement the new rates for grandfathered flood insurance policies that are remapped into higher flood risk areas. Cassidy aides since the measure bars FEMA from using 2014 budgeted funds to implement the higher rates for grandfathered premiums, it would have the effect of putting off the increases until well into 2015.
Still, both Landrieu, and Cassidy are asking that Congress pass both measures. Cassidy is challenging Landrieu in the 2014 Louisiana Senate race.
The giant spending bill would increase discretionary spending by 2.6 percent, providing addition money for defense, as well as some domestic programs, such as Head Start.
The bill doesn't contain riders sought by House Republicans to limit abortion and block Environmental Protection Administration regulation of coal-fired power plants.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said that after Republican "budgeting by government shutdown, it was good to see "some sense of order" prevail.
"In addition to scaling back the harmful impact of the sequester on defense and non-defense programming and investments, the bill includes quite a bit of good news for Louisiana, including increased funding for Head Start, strong funding for dredging, and protections for Gulf Coast seafood harvesters and producers. Additionally, the bill includes some flood insurance relief for Louisiana homeowners. While the language in the bill is an improvement, there is still much work to be done to bring flood insurance rates back to reality."
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, cast the Louisiana's delegation's only vote against the spending bill.
"This $1.1 trillion-, 1,500-page- bill cements the higher spending levels contained in the budget deal that I voted against last month," said Scalise, chair of the large House Republican Conservative Caucus. "While this bill contains some laudable provisions, it does not include a long-term fix to the flood insurance problem that I'm working everyday with Congressman Cassidy and our leadership to solve."
Newly elected Rep. Vance McAllister, R-Swartz, said the bill represents compromise in a divided government.
"While this bill is by no means perfect for either party, I voted in favor of it because it does reduce government spending and ensures that disabled military retirees will be unaffected by any changes to military retirement benefits," he said.