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Friday, Aug 22, 2014

House postpones vote on flood insurance bill


Published:   |   Updated: February 26, 2014 at 03:36 PM

Leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives postponed a bill to roll back flood insurance rate increases that had been scheduled for a vote this week.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act is now expected to go to the House floor next week after members hash out possible changes that may include protections for small business properties.

The revised House legislation released by GOP leadership last week was praised by Democrats such as Tampa Rep. Kathy Castor for permanently stopping many of the premium hikes that an earlier Senate bill would have merely delayed.

On the other hand, a growing chorus of fiscal conservatives and some environmental groups has come out against the legislation for overturning sweeping reforms meant to keep the deeply indebted flood program financially solvent and discourage development in risky coastal areas.

Republican leaders had originally sought to fast-track the bill this week, which would have required supermajority support rather than a simple majority of 216 votes.

It’s unclear what route they will take if the bill is allowed to go to the floor next week.

“We know that there’s an ideological divide on the Republican side, especially, so I hope it’s not being set up for failure,” said Castor.

The original version of the House bill has more than 230 bipartisan co-sponsors, more than enough to pass under regular rules, and Senate legislation to delay rate hikes by four years passed last month 67-32.

Critics of both the House and Senate bills say they will undermine the financial stability of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is $24 billion in debt, possibly threatening its ability to pay claims in the event of another major disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or Sandy.

Influential conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the R Street Institute have written editorials and lobbied members of Congress to oppose changes to the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act, which was broadly supported by both parties two years ago.

Political races are likely driving some elected officials in coastal states such as Louisiana and New York to go against principle to appease constituents who are angry about the premium hikes, says Andrew Moylan, senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

“Everybody knows what the right thing to do policywise here is and they are actively choosing not to do it because of the political situation,” he said in a conference call Wednesday.

Moylan was joined by Rob Moore, of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, who said continuing to offer rates that don’t reflect true risk only creates more peril for people in flood zones.

“It’s been much more effective at prolonging the risk of flood in this country rather than preventing it,” he said.

In a meeting with the president Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for swift action to stop the premium hikes, which are causing a drop in the real estate market, he said.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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