Senators fuming over flood insurance compromise in highway bill

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) took to the Senate floor Thursday to say that she opposes the NFIP reauthorization and would have voted against the bill if the highway and student loan provisions had not been packaged together with it.

She said that she had understood she would be allowed to offer amendments on affordability and risk areas known as so-called V zones, but combining the NFIP bill with the other measures will not allow her provisions to be inserted.

“I must go on record ... that I would vote against it,” she said. She said she is certain the Senate will be forced to change the bill within a year to help lower premiums.

Senators were negotiating Thursday on a contentious area of the legislation related to how homes in areas covered by levees, known as "residual risk areas," are treated by NFIP.

Last week Landrieu and Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and David Vitter (R-La.) struck a compromise on an issue related to how insurance treats homes in areas covered by government levees, with the heads of the Senate Banking Committee.

The members had opposed a provision in the draft legislation that would have mandated insurance in a wider flood zone and would have resulted in higher insurance premiums for homeowners there.

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The compromise would have delayed mandatory coverage in flood areas protected by levees until the Federal Emergency Management Agency develops new risk-assessment tools to give homeowners credit for strength of the levee.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) also opposed the original bill, but had not signed onto the compromise and was expected to offer an amendment striking it from the bill. 

Sources said Thursday that the compromise, which was in a version of the conference report posted online Wednesday night, had been removed. They later clarified that negotiators had also removed the underlying language as well that would have made coverage in those areas mandatory in the first place. 

This is a victory for the Landrieu group.

Fiscal conservative groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense and R Street had been happy that the higher premiums were in the bill. As it stands, the bill reduces the deficit by nearly $5 billion by increasing revenue for NFIP, the nation's sole provider of flood insurance.

The Senate had been expected to debate a standalone NFIP bill this week, but negotiations on amendments bogged down after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) insisted on staging a abortion-related vote on when life begins. NFIP expires at the end of July, and the repeated lapses of the program have hurt the housing sector, industry sources have said. 

Correction: This story was updated at 5:40 pm to more accurately reflect Landrieu's floor remarks and the status of the levee provisions.