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Flood Insurance Bill Goes Back to Rewrite

Updated 1:29 p.m. |  House Republican leaders announced Wednesday that a vote on a flood insurance bill would be put off until next week while members negotiate language that can pass the chamber.  

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told his conference in a private meeting that he will work with Democrats in order to advance the measure. “We are moving it to next week to work on a few remaining technical issues,” he said, according to source in the room.  

The bill was expected to come up on Thursday under suspension of the rules , meaning it would need a two-thirds majority vote to pass. But members coming out of the GOP meeting Wednesday morning said they did not think it had enough votes to clear that hurdle.  

A GOP leadership aide said Democrats asked leaders to delay consideration of the bill to give them more time to explain it to their members to round up support in their caucus. On Tuesday, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., confirmed his understanding that votes were at issue, adding that House Financial Services ranking member Maxine Waters, D-Calif., was closely involved in tweaking language.  

“This measure remains a work in progress,” Waters said in a statement Wednesday. “We continue to work in good faith with Republican leadership to address a number of technical and substantive issues related to the legislation, with the ultimate goal of correcting the unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. This could not be done overnight.”  

Waters was a champion in 2012 of bipartisan legislation with then-Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., dubbed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which reduced subsidies for homeowners to shore up the cash-strapped National Flood Insurance Program.  

With flood insurance premiums now skyrocketing, however, lawmakers — particularly in flood-prone states and districts — are clamoring to revisit that law. The Senate last month passed legislation that would effectively halt implementation of Biggert-Waters for four years, but House Republican leaders said that measure was, for them, a non-starter.  

On Tuesday evening, Rep. Michael G. Grimm, R-N.Y., insisted that truly bipartisan negotiations were under way on the new, House GOP leadership-blessed flood insurance bill.  

“Literally, as we speak, minor edits are being made to the bill so that we can make this a truly bipartisan bill,” said Grimm, who is helping spearhead the effort, in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call. “I personally think, when this comes to the floor … people are going to be surprised that there’s going to be overwhelming support.”  

Grimm named Waters and Reps. Gregory W. Meeks of New York and Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana as Democrats at the negotiating table.  

The fate of flood insurance legislation in the House hinges, however, on Republican support, too. The Club for Growth is launching a full-scale campaign to bring down the bill on grounds that it does not fully repeal the National Flood Insurance Program and that it reverts to a time when taxpayers fronted high costs for individuals’ insurance policies.  

Seeking to appeal to conservative lawmakers in particular, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola released a statement on Wednesday afternoon praising House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, for his opposition to the flood insurance bill currently pending in the House.  

“House Republican Leadership wants to stick taxpayers with the bill for higher subsidies to beach-front properties, but Congressman Hensarling took a principled stand,” said Chocola. “Hensarling has long advocated for reforming the Flood Insurance program, so it’s no surprise that GOP leaders are refusing to run the bill through his committee, and instead, are negotiating directly with the Democrats.  

“Republicans in the House could learn a lot by following Congressman Hensarling’s lead when it comes to protecting taxpayers and increasing economic freedom,” Chocola said.

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