House approves flood insurance extension

A home is engulfed by flood water in Hamburg, Iowa from the rising Missouri River in 2011.  A home is engulfed by flood water in Hamburg, Iowa from the rising Missouri River in 2011. Nati Harnik/AP

The House approved a short-term, 60-day extension of the National Flood Insurance Program on Wednesday, keeping the program alive and setting the stage for a broader debate over reform this summer.

The measure was approved by a voice vote. The bill now moves to the White House and the president is expected to sign it quickly. The focus on flood insurance then shifts back to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised to bring up a five-year reauthorization and reform bill in the next work session.

The National Flood Insurance Program, which provides government-subsidized insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency in flood-prone regions is nearly $18 billion in debt from 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to overhaul the program since 2003, and have relied on a series of short-term extensions to keep the program running since 2008, but they seem now to have reached a turning point in the debate.

The short-term extension the House passed Wednesday includes a provision that would eliminate subsidies for flood-insurance coverage on vacation and other second homes.

Lawmakers are seeking other changes to make the program more fiscally sound by phasing in premium increases and phasing out subsidies on repetitive loss properties, while also taking steps to update flood mapping.

The House passed such a reform bill last year with bipartisan support. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the panel’s ranking member, passed a similar bill out of the committee last year and are working to reach agreements with colleagues on amendments before that bill moves to the Senate floor.

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