Friday, May 25, 2018
Politics

These House members rejected a chance to help on flood insurance

Call it a political stunt. Call it a legislative long shot.

Call it whatever you wish, but for the past two days a parade of U.S. representatives have stood on the House floor and pleaded on behalf of procedural maneuvers that might have led to a quick vote on a Senate proposal for flood insurance relief.

On both afternoons, the attempts were squashed.

Now in the grand scheme of things, this wasn't a huge deal because the odds of these moves leading anywhere were always going to be slim.

But here's why it was still interesting:

In both cases, the vote went neatly along party lines. And so an argument could be made that a lot of politicians sided with their party instead of their constituents.

Or here's another way of looking at it:

If all of the Republicans from Florida and Louisiana — states hit hard by flood insurance premiums — had been on board either day, the long shot would have worked.

By itself, that would not have guaranteed the successful passage of the Senate's proposal to delay the Biggert-Waters Act for four years. There still would have been more hoops to jump through before that bill passed the House.

But wouldn't you think elected officials from Florida would want to demonstrate support for flood insurance reform at every opportunity?

"Gus does support the Senate bill,'' said Elizabeth Hittos, the chief of staff for Rep. Gus Bilirakis. "In fact, he is a co-sponsor of the House version of the Senate bill.''

Still, Bilirakis voted twice against the procedural moves that would have given the Senate bill additional life as an amendment on unrelated House legislation.

And Bilirakis wasn't alone. Hernando's Richard Nugent voted the same way. So did Hillsborough's Dennis Ross, as well as the 13 other Florida Republicans.

The standard explanation is that the House is working on its own flood insurance reforms. And it is true that Bilirakis and Ross have both come up with plans.

The problem is that Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the Financial Services Committee that oversees flood insurance, has shown little interest in changing Biggert-Waters, which means legislation may never get out of that committee.

So why not support a back-door attempt to get the Senate proposal on a bill? Why not demonstrate a united front in states where people are hurting? Why not make it clear that Florida cannot afford to let this issue slide?

For any idea that the Senate proposal is merely a delay and not a fix is silly. The four-year postponement would force FEMA to do a mandated affordability study, and would give extra time to recruit private insurers and come up with alternative solutions. Not to mention, it might keep some residents from losing their homes.

Now if Ross or Bilirakis or congressmen from Louisiana, New Jersey or New York manage to get a meaningful bill out of committee and to the House floor, then perhaps their acquiescence to partisan politics this week will have paid dividends.

But if nothing is done, or a watered-down bill is proposed, then your local representatives better be prepared to explain why they let an opportunity pass.

It may have been borne out of desperation, but that's exactly where a lot of Tampa Bay residents find themselves.

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