Perspectives: Capitol Hill Not
in the Flood Zone

WASHINGTON June 07 (BestWire) — When
congressional leaders are stuck with a bill they can't
move, something that's drawing a lot of heat, they
start looking around for an unstoppable force.
They need a bill that is sure to clear the gauntlet of
legislative interference. They need something that
has no enemies and, preferably, also has a drop-
dead clock ticking down to zero.

Then, all they need to do is apply a little glue, stick
their dead weight onto the can't-miss legislation and
break out the presidential signing pens.

But this cherished go-to tactic in Congress has
backfired again and again in recent months, leaving
property/casualty insurers shaking their heads in
frustrated disbelief. The National Flood Insurance
Program is, as of now, starting its second week on
hiatus. It has lapsed until Congress can get back to
it after their latest week-long recess. And this isn't
the first time. The program, which serves more
than 5.5 million customers, has expired repeatedly
in this session.

Why? Because of its bedfellows. The NFIP is fine.
Most members of Congress seem to agree it's one
of those programs that, though it has great and
sometimes fiscally tragic flaws, has to keep going
or there will be trouble. But apparently, it's not
quite important enough to help Democrats bring
home some other items that have been jammed in
its same legislative cocoon — including
unemployment benefit extensions, Medicare doctor
reimbursements, and subsidies to help pay for
COBRA during these tough times.

All those things are actually very expensive, and
Republicans have put their collective foot down to
demand that other federal programs be cut in order
to pay for them. They have stared down the
Democrats, who hoped that the GOP wouldn't be
willing to stop such necessary and banal items as
the NFIP in order to get their way. But neither side
seems to be blinking.

The NFIP deadline was initially flirted with for a
few hours at one point earlier in this legislative
session. Then, it was a two-day lapse, shrugged off
by the lawmakers. Then, they let it go silent for 18
days.

That's more than two weeks without new policies
being written or old ones being renewed. The
Federal Emergency Management Agency instructed
insurers to keep on paying out the existing claims
and let Congress catch up. But the disruptions
have been awkward, and sparked a brewing panic
for those trying to nail down real estate deals in
flood areas.

Now it has happened again — hiatus. Even though
a few lawmakers began getting the picture and
introducing stand-alone bills to go ahead and take
care of a serious NFIP extension on its own, their
fellows didn't vote on them. The flood program has
remained stuck in what's known as the "tax
extenders bill." (Is there any wonder it's so
unpopular?) Until the parties can agree on how to
pay for extra jobless benefits or help with getting
health insurance for people out of work, the NFIP
and the other programs wait.

Though property/casualty insurers have been
waving their arms and pleading with Congress to
do something, the lawmakers haven't yet cared
enough to jeopardize their time off, repeatedly
heading out on recess to let the program expire and
languish.

While federal lawmakers argued over
unemployment and the NFIP failed to help its
fellow programs to the finish line of a long-term
extension, Rhode Island flooded. So did Tennessee.
And while this current hiatus continues, the oil-
slicked Gulf Coast is peering down the barrel of the
new hurricane season. As Matt Brady, a
spokesman for the National Association of Mutual
Insurance Companies, said of Congress recently:
"Clearly, flood is not a huge priority for these
guys."
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