WASHINGTON — After weeks of scrambling to come up with a proposal to remedy soaring flood insurance rates, lawmakers formally introduced one Tuesday and quickly worked to build broad bipartisan support, casting the increases as a threat to middle-class families.
"This is a real threat to the economic well-being of many communities," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
The proposal would delay the rate hikes for four years and require FEMA to complete an affordability study before increasing any flood insurance premiums in the future. The affordability study was mandated as part of the law that triggered the increases but was never undertaken. It would apply retroactively.
"This is a great picture," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., declared at a news conference joined by a number of Senate and House lawmakers from both parties.
Conspicuously missing was Florida, the state with the most subsidized flood insurance policies (about 50,000 in Pinellas County alone). Only Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, was there to add his support.
So where does the rest of the delegation stand?
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who did an interview with Fox News about Obamacare during the news conference, has taken a wait-and-see approach. A spokeswoman noted that he does not approve of the increases, which kicked in Oct. 1, but that he also wants to ensure that the National Flood Insurance Program remains solvent and is waiting to see final legislation.
Support was building in the House, where the bill was introduced Tuesday afternoon, with more than 80 members in support.
Florida members include: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston; Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami; Rich Nugent, R-Brooksville; Kathy Castor, D-Tampa; Joe Garcia, D-Miami; Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach; Frederica Wilson, D-Miami; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami; Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton; Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter; and Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said he'll be a co-sponsor and is working on his own legislation for longterm reform.
A handful of other members said they wanted to read the legislation but were generally supportive.
Backers face a challenge gaining support from lawmakers in areas not as prone to flooding as well as those who say the national flood insurance program is too saddled with debt.
"This bipartisan breakthrough will benefit thousands of families and businesses in Florida and other states, and will responsibly analyze flood insurance reform in a measured, reasonable way that focuses on stability for homeowners," Castor said. "I am pressing to have Congress act quickly to pass this bipartisan legislation that provides relief for my neighbors, some of whom saw their rates skyrocket overnight."
"Forty percent of all flood policies are in my state," Nelson said at the news conference Tuesday. "And it has dried up the real estate market. … We're in an emergency situation. … It's time to act."