Stung by a backlash from property owners who are feeling the pain of sharp increases in their flood insurance premiums, Senators and Representatives from coastal areas—and from some inland areas subject to flooding—are pushing back against the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act, which re-authorized the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years. Politicians from coastal states want the insurance hikes that Biggert-Waters set in motion to be put on hold, perhaps for as long as four years.
A bipartisan group in Congress was hoping for action before the end of the year. But that was not to be. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has been following the action in the House and Senate. First the Senate, where Louisiana Senators Mary Landrieu and Scott Vitter found a rare area of agreement in pushing for a halt to the rate hikes. Early last week, there was hope (see: "Senate backers of bill delaying flood insurance increases will try to get a vote this week," by Bruce Alpert). But moving Landrieu and Vitter's bill forward required unanimous consent under Senate rules, the Times-Picayune reported: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has told supporters of the delaying legislation that he'll work to ensure that no Democrat objects to the bill. But Democratic congressional sources say Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., angry that Reid has blocked GOP filibusters on Obama administration nominees, is signaling that he or another Republican might object."
Sure enough, a Senator did object, the paper reported (see: "GOP senator's objection blocks vote on bill to delay flood insurance increases," by Bruce Alpert). "Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the bill needed more evaluation from the Senate Banking Committee before getting a vote. Roberts said he raised his objections on behalf of Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee."
The Times-Picayune held out hope for some movement in the House: "Meanwhile, a House bill, offered by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, which would delay some of the premium increases until March 2015, is likely to get a vote later this week. But senators supporting the four-year delay said a more comprehensive approach to premium relief than that provided for in the House bill is needed. A four-year delay would give FEMA time to complete an affordability study that would show that some of the premium increases contemplated by FEMA--double, triple and even 10 times current rates--are not sustainable."
Still, the House appeared poised to act on Cassidy's proposal, the Times-Picayune reported (see: "House to take up bill delaying some flood insurance premium hikes through March, 2015," by Bruce Alpert). "House Republican leaders are fast-tracking legislation that would delay some of the flood insurance premium increases resulting from the Biggert-Waters law through March, 2015, according to congressional sources," the paper reported. "The lead sponsor is Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge. It appears a vote on the measure will take place before Friday, when the House is scheduled to recess for the Christmas/New Years holidays."
No such luck. The next day, the deal was off (see: "House won't vote on flood insurance before next year, and efforts to delay increases are in limbo," by Bruce Alpert). Opposition to the short reprieve came mainly from advocates of a longer moratorium on premium hikes, the Times-Picayune reported: "Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, the National Association of Realtors and a coalition formed to fight the increases, StopFemaNow, raised strong objections. The main complaints about the Cassidy bill are that the delay of some rate increases is only through March 2015, only about six months after the increase for grandfathered properties are supposed to begin being phased in. Moreover, the bill doesn't deal with a section of the 2012 flood insurance law that ends subsidies for homes once they are sold--causing immediate and substantial increases for many properties and making some of them unsellable. The change, prompted by Biggert-Waters, has already led the assessor in St. Charles Parish to lower property assessments."