WASHINGTON — The most surprising thing about the growing alarm in Washington over dramatic flood insurance rate hikes is how quietly the law enabling those increases came to pass.
The bill — the innocuous if clunky sounding Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act — passed the House in 2011. Every member of the Florida delegation except one, Rep. Connie Mack of Fort Myers, voted in favor of it, which may come as a surprise given how loudly Florida members are pushing for changes today.
The bill never passed the Senate. A year went by. Then came an opportunity: The $127 billion transportation bill. The flood language was tacked on during negotiations between the House and Senate along with a bunch of other stuff, including a bill earmarking billions in BP oil spill fines to the gulf and a measure preventing a doubling of student loan interest rates.
That's often how the sausage is made in Washington.
"It caught a ride on the last train out of the station. But it isn't like this was something that came out of left field," said Steve Ellis, vice president for Taxpayers for Common Sense, which supports the flood reform. The need to shore up the federal program was discussed for years, he said.
But suddenly lawmakers in states as diverse as Florida, Louisiana, New York and North Dakota are hearing a lot from constituents.
"It's taken a while for people to actually recognize it," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., whose warnings a year ago were mostly ignored.
The transportation bill passed the House by a 373-52 vote and the Senate by 74-19. Landrieu was among the supporters because she was pushing for the BP oil money. In Florida, it got the support of most of the House delegation. The no votes came from conservatives who seemed more concerned about overall spending.
The same can be said for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio who has consistently voted against sweeping legislative packages. His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Bill Nelson, voted for the bill. But now Nelson is working with Landrieu, Rubio and others on a fix. Florida House members are pursuing relief as well.
Here's a breakdown of how the Florida delegation voted on the legislation: