An election-year vote to deal with steep hikes in flood-insurance premiums is putting House Republican leaders back in familiar territory. Once again, they'll need support from Democrats to enact a bill that would repeal recent reforms intended to repair a federal program soaked in debt.
But this time, under the process set up by Republicans to bring a Wednesday vote, if enough Democrats refuse to go along, they could risk being blamed for the measure's defeat. For their part, key House Democrats were not saying what they'll do.
"Although there have been productive conversations with Republican leadership, I still have significant concerns that the measure will not provide the necessary relief to those facing skyrocketing flood insurance premiums," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., a leader of the effort to address the problems. Meanwhile, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's office wasn't saying whether many Democrats will vote for the GOP bill.
As of Monday, House Republican leaders who have been blocking a vote on a Senate-passed bill had scheduled their own measure on Wednesday's suspension calendar, meaning it will require backing from two-thirds of the members present to pass. In other words, some of the 199 Democrats will have to go along to get a conference with the Senate on its bill.
The House measure repeals provisions of a bill enacted in 2012 and cosponsored by Waters and former Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill. The already-passed Senate bill would delay but not repeal the 2012 law's adjustments to rate maps for the National Flood Insurance Program — which is more than $24 billion in the red — for four years.
Some House Republicans want to permanently reinstate grandfathered flood-insurance rates, which they argue would help stabilize the real estate market and provide a refund for people who have had large flood-insurance rate increases due to the sale or purchase of a home.
Still, some conservative groups are pressing lawmakers to oppose the bill. They say the Biggert-Waters Act — against the backdrop of a long-term budget crisis — represented a major step in the direction of fiscal responsibility by fixing a program that is tens of billions of dollars in debt.
"This bill represents a fundamental betrayal of the free-market principles and fiscal responsibility the House leadership claims to embrace," said R.J. Lehmann, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank.
But Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is running for a Senate seat and has positioned himself as a leader in the effort to resolve skyrocketing flood-insurance premiums, said in a statement that "support for this bill has been overwhelming."
Waters's office, meanwhile, said the GOP legislation would repeal provisions of the 2012 law that would raise insurance rates for policyholders who are "grandfathered" into rates below actuarial value. Waters also warned that the bill contains provisions that, as written, may not guarantee the affordability of flood insurance for many policyholders. Unless those shortcomings are addressed, Waters said, she will continue to press for a floor vote on the Senate bill, which is cosponsored by 235 House members.
The back-and-forth could mean that House members might not see a final version of what they are asked to vote on until right before it comes to the floor.