WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday easily passed legislation to delay massive increases in flood insurance premiums and sent the bill to the House of Representatives, where a much less certain fate awaits the bill.

Senate Bill 1926, known as the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordabilty Act, passed 62-37, largely on partisan lines. Fifty-five Democrats and 12 Republicans voted for the bill, with one Democrat and 31 Republicans opposed.

Among lawmakers in coastal states, only Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Alabama Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby and Delaware Sen. Thomas Carper voted against the bill. All but Carper are Republicans.

The bill delays premium increases for primary residences for four years while the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducts a affordability study to assess the impact of higher rates on homeowners. 

The delays do not affect rate increases for second homes or properties that have seen repeated losses due to flooding.

“I am delighted that the Senate came together in a bipartisan manner to protect millions of Americans from the steep increases in their annual flood insurance premiums,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican and one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Without action, many Americans and Georgians could lose their homes or see their home values plummet. I look forward to working with my friends in the House to ensure that flood insurance is both affordable and sustainable for the American people.”

The bill aims to soften the blow of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. The act was intended to shore up the finances of the National Flood Insurance Program, which owed the federal government billions after paying out claims for hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. 

Biggert-Waters phased out subsidies for properties built before the adoption of flood maps over four to five years. 

The first round of increases hit policyholders in 2013 and caused sticker shock. The act also eliminated subsidies when a property was sold. Real estate professionals in Galveston County saw some potential sales scuttled after prospective buyers saw premium quotes in the thousands. 

In the Senate, S1926’s co-sponsors had to fight off an amendment from Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. 

The senator’s amendment would have spiked the four-year delay, while increasing the number of years for phasing out the subsidies. His amendment would cap increases at 25 percent of the current premium per year. 

Biggert-Waters capped increases at 20 percent to 25 percent of the total increase. Toomey’s amendment would also add a $40 surcharge to make up for revenue lost by stretching out the increases.

Toomey said S1926, which was sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, seeks to undo the Biggert-Waters reforms, not just delay them.  

“The Menendez approach — the underlying bill we are debating today — deals with this, but it deals with this in the wrong way,” Toomey said on Wednesday during debate on his amendment. 

“It deals with this by completely suspending all the reforms. It completely dispenses with the idea that we should move toward an actuarially sound program.”

The amendment failed 34-65.

Now the bill goes on the House, where leadership already has expressed it opposition. House Speaker John Boehner earlier this month told The Associated Press the House wouldn’t consider a delay of Biggert-Waters, but was open to “alternatives” to ease the burden. 

Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, also had come out against a delay. Further opposition may lay at the White House, where the Office of Management and Budget earlier this week came out opposing a delay in the Bigger-Waters reforms. 

Senators supporting the bill wasted no time in pressuring House members to support the bill. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, one of the bill’s most vocal supporters, called for her constituents to call House members to voice their support. Other senators did the same.

“The problem is going to be down on the other end of that hall,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., referring to the House. 

“The Speaker of the House has already said that he doesn’t like (the bill).”

“Our fight is not over,” Menendez said after the vote in a statement. 

“Now we must call on Speaker Boehner and the House to pass this legislation so we can send it to the President to sign it into law.”


How they voted

WHAT:  S 1926, the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability  Act

VOTE: Passed 67-32, with one member not voting

 

TEXAS SENATORS: 

Cornyn-Nay

Cruz-Nay

 

COASTAL STATES:

YEA-37

NAY-5 (Cornyn, Cruz, Session, R-Ala., Shelby, R-Ala., Carper, D-Del.)

 

PARTY LNES:

YEA-Democrats 55, Republicans 12

NAY-Democrats 1, Republicans 31 

 

Contact reporter Wes Swift at 409-683-5319 or wes.swift@galvnews.com.

(15) comments

Dwight Burns

We just dodged a bullet, at least in the Senate, without the help of Texas' Republican
Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. They should be remembered at the ballot box
when they come up for re-election.

Had this measure not passed the Senate, our flood insurance would have gone through the roof, causing financial hardships on thousands of costal residents.

Now the measure has to pass the House. If the GOP in Congress vote the way GOP's voted in the Senate, we could see those price hikes sooner then later. However, it will take a majority of the Dem with the help of a number of GOP's to pass this measure postponing the price hikes. We had better E-Mail our Congressmen and Congresswomen, spurring them on to delay these hikes.

TikiOwl

YEA-Democrats 55, Republicans 12

NAY-Democrats 1, Republicans 31

Can't wait to see the complaints about Cornyn and Cruz voting with the Dems. And just remember who to thank (the GOP) if and when the GOP somehow gets their way and your rates skyrocket.

Eric Kemp

Read the article again. Cruz and Cornyn are in the Nay section.

TikiOwl

You are correct. I misread the article...should have known our Senators wouldn't be voting to help us.

Mike Meador

Move Cruz and Cornyn to a coastal county! 'Course they have the bucks to pay for huge insurance costs, and in this case, didn't think about ALL of the public, Rep. or Demo., who would pony-up the increase in costs.
Sometimes you have to put your butt to the fire and take a hit for what is right!

Raif Smith

I Agree!

Eric Kemp

Why should you recieve federal subsidies (i.e. other taxpayers money) to cover your losses?

Steve Fouga

Because we're important.

Michael Sabanovich

"Why should you recieve federal subsidies (i.e. other taxpayers money) to cover your losses?"

I've been asking that for years as I see my tax dollars go toward fraudulent welfare, fraudulent Medicare, food stamps, misused public housing, and corrupt leadership. I'd much rather spread my tax dollars amongst other hard working, tax paying citizens.

Raif Smith

Why should corporation get tax breaks?

TikiOwl

Why should Michelle Bachman and farmers receive a subsidy?

Mick Phalen

An interesting topic for a debate on federal government subsidies ....

Kevin Lang

I think it's all well and good for the Flood Insurance program to be self-sustaining, and to do that, I understand that we must all pay our fair share of the risk. However, I can see a lot of economic value in spreading out the increases, especially for the more drastic ones, over a few years so that the affected folks can adjust their budgets or sell their homes to absorb the increases. Especially since they've rolled out new maps that may need further tweaking. After all, is it really easily rationalized that homes that were pretty much in line with the surge and not only didn't flood then, but have never flooded in 20 or 30 years are now all of a suddin flagged as high risk?

Island Lover

That's the problem - you can't sell your house! And a few inches in elevation the wrong side of the mapped base flood elevation can mean tens of thousands of dollars in premium increases. And these are not beach mansions, these are modest homes in working class neighborhoods where teachers, police and firemen live.

Island Lover

Also, these homes were built on slabs 60 years ago before FEMA Flood insurance existed. They were able to obtain permits to repair after Ike, but now the flood ins will be unaffordable and your home unsellable.

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