House Republican leaders will call up legislation later this month aimed at giving relief to people facing higher flood insurance premiums, a move that might also help the GOP win a key Senate race in Louisiana later this year.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the House would look at a "modified version" of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which received bipartisan support in the House and the Senate when it was introduced last year.
Passage of the House bill is also likely to help Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is trying to win the Senate seat now held by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Landrieu was a constant presence on the Senate floor to push for passage of the Senate bill, which happened late last month.
Cantor's announcement means Cassidy will likely get to play a similar role in the House.
"I'm very optimistic that the House of Representatives will consider substantial legislation on flood insurance reform in the coming weeks," Cassidy said Wednesday. "We need reform to provide Louisiana families relief from unjustified rate hikes and bring stability to the National Flood Insurance Program."
The latest polls from Louisiana say the Cassidy-Landrieu race is neck and neck — a poll from this week put Landrieu ahead by just 1 percentage point. Cantor praised Cassidy as a "tireless advocate" for flood insurance reform.
Cassidy can already claim one victory on the issue. Last month, Congress passed a 2014 spending bill that included language from Cassidy delaying flood insurance rate increases for homeowners with grandfathered rates.
The language also delayed efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to implement the rate hike, which prompted FEMA to say the delay will be even longer, possibly until June of 2016.
But while the bill could give Cassidy a lift, it would be unfair to call it an election-year gimmick — there is real demand in both parties, and for substantive reasons, to pass a flood bill. For the last two weeks, Democrats, in particular, have made several motions to call up the Senate-passed bill instead of other legislation the House has considered.
The Senate passed its version of the bill, S. 1926, in a 67-32 vote on Jan. 30. It delays insurance rate increases, and ensures that homes benefitting from flood insurance subsidies today can keep these subsidies even after being sold — the 2012 law required those homes to lose their subsidies once sold.
The broad aim of the 2012 law was to help the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) dig itself out of the $24 billion debt it racked up, most of which was caused by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Since its passage, however, thousands of complaints have rolled into Congress saying the law puts too much of the burden of reducing this debt on homeowners and small companies that can't afford the new premiums.
On Wednesday, Cantor hinted that the House would move a bill that doesn't go as far as the Senate-passed version. But he didn't specify what changes would be made in the House.
"The Senate bill irresponsibly removes much needed reforms and imposes additional costs on taxpayers," Cantor said. "The House will act to protect the flood insurance program but also protect homeowners from unreasonable and unrealistic premium increases."
The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who welcomed Cantor's announcement that flood insurance relief was on the way.
"I couldn't be more proud to deliver on such an important national and local issue like fixing the skyrocketing premiums of the NFIP," Grimm said. "Without this crucial legislation, many hardworking families in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and throughout the U.S. will be forced out of their homes, foreclosures will sharply rise, and closings will continue to be canceled, preventing the sale of many homes and ultimately devaluing the recovering, yet still fragile real estate market."
Aside from Cassidy, Grimm's bill is co-sponsored by 199 other House members.