House delays flood insurance vote until later in the week

That House bill reflects broad bipartisan support in the House for an extension of the program, as well as reforms meant to reduce the nearly $18 billion in debt the program has racked up over the last several years.

"After five additional short-term extensions, the Senate has not still considered any legislation to reform NFIP," said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), the sponsor of both the short- and long-term extensions. "Instead, all we hear are excuses and rumors, that the administration doesn't want Congress to look productive, that the floor time in the Senate is too precious, or that Senate leaders simply don't want to deal with possible difficult amendments.

"The time for excuses has run out."

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House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) added that the expiration of the program at the end of May would be disastrous for 21,000 communities in flood-prone areas of the country, since June is the start of hurricane season. The federal program is the only provider of flood insurance, something Republicans are looking to change in the long-term by allowing private companies to compete in this market.

"Because of the dysfunctional Senate that's not working, we're once again faced with the risk of having the flood insurance shut down … right before hurricane season starts," Bachus said. He said the uncertainty surrounding the reauthorization of the program is already delaying 1,300 house closings each day.

The five-year authorization that the House approved last year seeks to pay back some of the debt incurred under the program by increasing flood insurance premiums to match actual risk, and allow for faster premium increases each year. The 30-day extension bill, H.R. 5740, would require the government to start exploring how the flood insurance market can be privatized.

Congressional aides said Wednesday that the House moved a 30-day extension to keep the pressure on Congress to approve the five-year bill. House Republicans oppose longer extensions for fear that December will be a difficult time to work out a longer-term agreement.

As of this week, the Senate was exploring whether it was possible to pass a flood insurance bill, but was hung up on how many amendments might be allowed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried unsuccessfully to get unanimous consent to pass a seven-month extension on Tuesday, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) expressed support for a five-year extension, but said he would likely insist on a few amendment votes in that case.

— This story was updated at 6:55 p.m.