Monday, March 10, 2014

Pressure grows on Senate to take up House-passed flood insurance bill

Sen. Mary Landrieu (left) and Rep. Bill Cassidy are among those asking for quick Senate approval of legislation to avert significant increases in flood insurance premiums. The two are also running against each other in the Louisiana Senate race.

WASHINGTON -- A request for the Senate to give quick approval this week of the flood insurance legislation approved Tuesday by the House failed when an unknown Republican senator or senators objected to the expedited process.

The request for action this week, perhaps by voice vote, required unanimous consent -- meaning a single senator could block action. The objecting senator or senators were not disclosed -- only that the objection came from the Republican side of the aisle.

That's no surprise given that 31 Republicans joined one Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., in voting no on a Senate bill January 30 to delay most of the premium increases for four years. It passed 67-32.

Still, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he's confident that there are 60 votes -- the number needed to bring up most legislation in the Senate.

"It's not going to be done by unanimous consent, but I'm confident we've got 60 votes, Vitter said.

The House legislation, passed Tuesday by a vote of 306-91, limits yearly premium increases to an average of 15 percent per year for each of the nine property categories listed by FEMA, and stipulates that no individual policyholder pay an increase of more than 18 percent per year. It calls on FEMA to "strive" to reach the goal that most policyholders have a premium of no more than 1 percent of the value of their coverage -- in other words, $2,000 for a $200,000 policy.

The bill also reinstates the flood insurance program's grandfathering provision; meaning that homes that complied with previous flood maps would not be hit with large increases when new maps show greater risk of flooding. It also ends a provision that required an immediate hike to actuarial levels when a home changes ownership -- slowing homes sales in many communities designed high risk by FEMA flood maps.

The changes in Biggert Watters in the House bill would be paid for with a $25 surcharge or residential properties and $250 for non-residential properties or non-primary residences.

On Thursday, sponsors of the House bill, including Reps. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.; Bill Cassidy R-Baton Rouge, Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; and Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., among others, asked the Senate to take the bill up quickly. Vitter and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., also asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule as soon as possible.

There's was word from Democrats that Reid was contemplating bringing the bill up next week -- just before the Senate starts a one-week recess.

The House bill has the backing of Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the lead sponsors of the Senate-passed flood insurance bill.

"As a result of improvements made during bipartisan negotiations, I'm very pleased that the bill being put forth in the House will end the most egregious problems with the flood insurance program and bring some real relief to thousands of homeowners who desperately need our help," Menendez said after the House vote.

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