Backers of a bill to delay massive flood insurance increases four years said Wednesday they now have a majority of the U.S. House as co-sponsors but “obstruction” by House leadership is blocking a vote.
The bill, which passed the Senate 67-32, has 231 co-sponsors in the House, supporters said.
The issue is a big one for Florida, which has more properties than any other state affected by the steepest premium increases — more than 268,000, including nearly 5,000 in Palm Beach County. Some annual premiums have jumped tenfold.
“With a majority of House Members as co-sponsors, I hope that House leadership will finally allow a vote on this flood insurance fix,” said U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.
Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, took to the House floor to ask for action to stop an “economic storm.” She cited a South Florida couple in a “modest” home now paying $2,400 for flood insurance who say they cannot afford an increase to $12,000.
Florida’s GOP Gov. Rick Scott has urged the Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, to take up the bill and stop what he called “unfair” increases.
“The reality is this: if not for obstruction by Republican leadership, this bill could pass the House and be signed into law today,” said U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. “I again urge Republican leadership to immediately take up this bipartisan solution.”
Boehner had no immediate comment through a spokesperson.
House Republicans including Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, voted Tuesday to block a parliamentary maneuver to take up the flood bill, the third time that has happened this month. Rooney has signed on as a co-sponsor to the bill to push back rate hikes and conduct a federal affordability study.
A Rooney aide said Tuesday he supports the flood bill but the parliamentary maneuver would have affected another bill relating to military retirees, and he saw it as a partisan move so Democrats could claim Republicans were blocking the flood bill.
Boehner has said he does not foresee taking up a four-year delay but might consider more modest measures. Conservative groups have argued premium increases are necessary to get the program out of $24 billion in debt.
“We’re not in favor of a four-year delay,” said Christian Camara, Florida director for the R Street Institute, visiting the offices of The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday. His group, which describes itself as a free-market think tank, based in Washington, D.C., would consider a more gradual phasing in of some increases but not long-term delays, he said. That only encourages building or rebuilding in flood-prone areas among other problems, in his view.
Other groups including real estate agents have fought to halt the increases. Big rate hikes have been called “debilitating” by Robert Goldstein, past president of the Realtors Commercial Alliance of Palm Beach County.
The National Flood Insurance Program, created in 1968, covers 5.6 million U.S. policyholders. Two in five properties it covers are in Florida. About four out of five policyholders pay full rates now, but much of the debate is about the 20 percent of policies that are losing subsidized rates as part of a plan to help the program get out of debt.
More property owners could be forced by lenders to buy flood insurance for the first time amid the redrawing of federal maps. Western communities in Palm Beach County, for example, argue they don’t belong as high-risk areas on early versions of new maps. In a spending bill, Congress approved a year delay on rate increases for remapped homes.