WASHINGTON — The House Financial Services Committee advanced two bills on Thursday designed to revamp the flood insurance market, but it delayed action on related legislation amid partisan divisions.
The panel approved 30-26 a bill by Rep. Sean Duffy, who chairs the housing and insurance subcommittee, that is designed to enhance the financial stability of the National Flood Insurance Program and boost development of more accurate estimates of flood risk.
It also approved 53-0 a bill by Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., that would protect national flood insurance policyholders from significant premium increases and require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to analyze flood insurance coverage in urban areas.
Yet the subcommittee delayed action on several other bills until next week as Democrats and Republicans pointed fingers as bipartisan agreement on the issue proved elusive.
"I am disappointed as you are that we were not able to work across the aisle" on a bipartisan bill, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, at the opening of the session.
Disagreements over a proposed $50 fee as well as the grandfathering of flood premiums slowed down the vote, which is slated to be continued next Wednesday.
Even some GOP lawmakers raised concerns. Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., was particularly worried that many of his constituents who rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy would face unaffordable annual increases in their NFIP premiums under the Republican proposals.
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., meanwhile, argued fervently against a $50 fee that NFIP policyholders would be charged if they pay their premiums on a monthly basis. There is no charge if the policyholders pay on an annual basis.
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., also raised objections to premium increases. But Hensarling argued that the National Flood Insurance Program is $25 billion in debt and needs to be put on a sounder and more sustainable path.
The Texas Republican also noted that his constituents in Texas face "killer tornadoes" and that there is no comparable federal insurance program for tornado disasters.
The panel rejected 32-25 a substitute bill by Waters that was similar to a flood insurance bill drafted by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Waters argued the bipartisan bill was a better approach.
"I will offer a bipartisan bill that that will keep flood insurance affordable and available," Waters said. "It will provide real affordability relief so that insurance premiums don't rise by more than 10% annually."
But Hensarling warned that the Senate bill would increase the government's deficit.
"It rolls back just about every single provision that puts the program on the path of fiscal sustainability," Hensarling said.