Scalise, GOP chairman clash ahead of flood insurance vote

Scalise, GOP chairman clash ahead of flood insurance vote
© Anna Moneymaker

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingHas Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? Maxine Waters is the Wall Street sheriff the people deserve Ex-GOP congressman heads to investment bank MORE (R-Texas) is clashing with Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble Cheney slated to introduce bill to place sanctions on Turkey MORE (R-La.) ahead of a vote Wednesday on a bill extending flood insurance funding.

Hensarling argued in a “Dear Colleague” letter obtained by The Hill that the House should not move forward with another short-term funding bill without reforms to help make the National Flood Insurance Program — which is currently roughly $20 billion in debt — financially sustainable.

In addition to encouraging his colleagues in the House to vote down the funding measure, the Texas Republican has also spoken with a handful of members in the upper chamber about his call to vote down the clean reauthorization. Hensarling said he believes lawmakers should instead take up a short-term bill introduced by Reps. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp House panel advances bill to protect elections from foreign interference MORE (R-Calif.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerPortland hotel chain founded by Trump ambassador says boycott is attack on employees VA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules Coalition of farmers and ranchers endorses Green New Deal MORE (D-Ore.) that includes eight previously House-passed reforms.

ADVERTISEMENT

"No. 1, I've asked for my leadership to bring this bill to the floor. So I've got a fiduciary duty to members and members of my conference, but I oppose the bill. It's going to be the seventh time we have done a short-term reauthorization with zero reforms since the House acted,” he told The Hill.

“So I haven't made a secret of the fact that I'm unhappy because, you know, never underestimate the ability of the Senate to do nothing. So I mean the Senate is going to do what they're going to do. I've made it clear to them I don't support a reauthorization without some minimal reforms.”

The move has created friction between Hensarling and Scalise, who worked with the GOP  chairman in November to pass a five-year bill that contained substantial reforms.

Scalise has argued that lawmakers can’t “play a game of chicken with the lives of millions of families” while they continue to negotiate a long-term deal that can pass both chambers. 

"We passed a bill with really good reforms that helped work with Chairman Hensarling to pass, unfortunately, the Senate hasn't moved anything and negotiations need to continue aggressively to get a deal with the Senate on a long-term reauthorization with reforms," Scalise told The Hill.

House lawmakers are set to head back to their districts for the August recess starting on Thursday, with current flood insurance funding set to expire at the end of the month — on the cusp of hurricane season.

If the program lapses, those with expiring policies could face challenges when applying to re-up their coverage.

“With the July 31 expiration fast approaching, and no long-term deal in sight, it's critical that we give certainty to policyholders with this vote tomorrow, to allow the chairman more time to reach a long-term deal with the Senate,” Scalise spokeswoman Lauren Fine told The Hill in a statement.

“Whip Scalise has already offered to the Chairman to convene a cross-section of interested parties in both the House and the Senate when the House returns in September — well in advance of the program's expiration — so we can pass real reforms that finally encourage a private marketplace for flood insurance."

Hensarling said he doesn’t believe the clean flood insurance bill can pass the upper chamber, writing to his colleagues and stating that “a handful of reform-minded Senators frustrated with the endless cycle of date changes can use a crowded legislative calendar to push for larger reforms now."

“I'm not sure that a reauthorization without reforms is necessarily going to make it through the Senate. So I would urge them to add reforms, but they're going to do what they're going to do,” Hensarling told The Hill. "People can vote their conscience, they can vote their district, but it's not something I in good conscience can do.”

According to GOP sources, Hensarling has spoken with roughly a half-dozen senators who are considering voting against the clean bill. 

“We’ve heard he’s doing everything he can to make sure it stalls in the Senate and that he’s actively whipping members in the House to vote against [the bill],” a GOP aide said. 

Scalise and Hensarling, who are both former chairmen of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), have voiced support for reforms to make the program more financially solvent and coverage more affordable. But a divide remains over whether the changes should be made in batches or through a longer-term renewal.

"Jeb says it ought to be a private sector solution. I totally agree with him. On the other hand, given what we've had in terms of floodings, that would cause some people to not be able to afford flood insurance, so Steve wants to continue to program as it is with some reforms, to take the reforms a little bit at a time,” one RSC member told The Hill.

“There is a disconnect between those positions. I believe Jeb would like to have 100 percent free-market solution now and I think Steve would like to have a 100 percent free-market solution, but it's just how quickly do you get there. That's the key difference.”

The lawmaker said Scalise is concerned about flood insurance recipients because he represents "southeast Louisiana," which has battled severe flooding.

Another GOP lawmaker expressed concern that putting the program at risk over an eleventh-hour push for reforms could backfire.

"Hensarling wants to be a purist, but there needs to be a glide path" for flood insurance recipients, said one Florida GOP lawmaker. "You just can't pull the rug out from under people and put this burden on them, tens of thousands of dollars that they can't pay.”

This isn’t the first time the two lawmakers have been at odds over flood insurance reauthorization.

During the summer of 2017, Hensarling’s call for higher federal flood insurance premiums and stricter requirements for insuring and building homes in flood zones received pushback from coastal Republicans. At the time, GOP leadership was advocating for the committee to craft legislation that could pass with bipartisan support amid extensive hurricane devastation.

“Are we really going to have a philosophical debate about what role the federal government should play in flood insurance when people’s homes are underwater?” a House Republican leadership aide told The Washington Post at the time. “It’s just an absolute political loser at this point.”

Scott Wong contributed.