The Senate could vote as early as the first week in January on legislation delaying potentially huge increases in federal flood-insurance premiums, backers of the measure say. The bill's fate in the House is less clear, however, so prospects for rate relief remains uncertain.
Senate proponents say Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will seek to bring the flood-insurance measure to the Senate floor via a cloture motion, a legislative procedure that limits debate on a bill and thus stops potential filibusters. Cloture motions can be hard to invoke because they require 60 votes for approval. Thus, it takes bipartisan support to win.
“We’re going to have to work hard to convince as many people as possible,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (pictured), D-La., told Gannett News. “If we don’t get 60 votes, the bill will fail and it will be a terrible shame. But I don’t think this bill will fail.“ Landrieu's first attempt at Senate debate failed when Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., objected to her request to bring legislation to the floor by unanimous consent.
At issue is the Biggert-Waters Act, legislation passed last year that reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and attempted to put the loss-ridden program on sounder footing. The bill passed overwhelmingly, but even the legislators who gave Biggert-Waters its name started to protest the measure when it became clear homeowners in flood-prone areas could see their flood insurance rates skyrocket as a result of the new legislation.
Rate hikes took effect for certain properties last Oct. 1, while they won't go into effect for other types of homes until Oct. 1, 2014. Some critics have said the act would make it practically impossible to buy or sell a home in certain flood zones.
Legislation introduced in both chambers seeks to delay most flood insurance increases for four years; compel the Federal Emergency Management Agency to complete an affordability study mandated by Biggert-Waters; address issues found within the study; and allow Congress time to review those findings and revisions.
That's still pretty much what the Senate bill will do. The House measure, meanwhile, looks to be undergoing revisions.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., last week "received assurances that a compromise bill--delaying some, but not all the premium increases--through March, 2015, six months after they are scheduled to begin being phased in, would get a floor vote. But it was pulled from the House calendar after some members said it didn't go far enough." The newspaper said some lawmakers dislike a provision in Cassidy's bill that fails to delay a provision in Biggert-Waters eliminating subsidized premiums once a home is sold.--Craig Webb is editor-in-chief of Remodeling. Follow him on Twitter at @craiglwebb and at @remodelingmag.