Over 60 days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeastern United States, the House of Representatives finally passed a bill Friday to help with the disaster. On a 357-67 vote, the House approved a bill to allow the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to take on an additional $9.7 billion in debt to pay claims to Sandy victims who had flood insurance.
The bill is a fraction of the $60 billion dollars the Senate passed last week. Speaker Boehner pulled that bill off the table refusing to allow a vote on it in the waning hours of the 112th Congress Tuesday. His action was met with immediate anger and hostile attacks from Republicans and Democrats including Congressman Peter King (R-NY) whose district and own neighborhood were devastated in the storm. New Jersey’s Republican Governor also blasted Boehner and House Republicans.
To tamp down a revolt, Boehner agreed to divide the $60 Billion Senate bill into two parts and allow a vote on each part. Today’s vote was the first part. Although the bill received an overwhelming yes vote, 67 Republicans voted against it including Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) who is House Budget Chairman and former GOP vice-presidential nominee. That vote may come back to haunt him in 2016.
The Club for Growth lobbied against passage of the bill and may be partly responsible for the number of Republican no votes. All Democrats voted yes.
Democratic Representatives from New York and New Jersey spoke for the bill and were critical of House leadership for letting so much time pass before approving disaster relief—something that used to be automatic, and non-controversial in Congress. Congressman King was not openly critical Friday but he did say he wanted Sandy victims to get the same treatment as other disaster victims have.
The bill was the first bill passed by the House in the new 113th Congress. It would temporarily increase NFIP's borrowing authority from $20.725 billion to $30.425 billion. It does not, however, say how long the temporary increase will last, or what mechanisms might be used to reduce NFIP's borrowing limit later.
The agency was almost at its debt limit and was in jeopardy of not having the funds to pay claims. The NFIP is the only provider of flood insurance in the country.
The Hill reports that Congressman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the NFIP's debt shows it's not sustainable, and that he would explore ways to reform the program. He announced that he was gong to take up legislation to privatize the flood insurance program—a move that would raise premiums on people living in flood plains.
He went on to say "Emergency bills like this should not come to the floor without offsets to pay for it, or structural reforms to ensure that taxpayer bailouts are never needed again."
The next step is approval of the balance of the $51 Billion in Sandy relief contained in the Senate bill. This is not expected to pass as easily. Already Republicans outside the affected area have their knives sharpened to reduce the amount of funding, or kill it altogether.
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, announced he thought billions of dollars in spending needed to be removed from the Senate bill. Previously he said he favored a bill around $27 billion not the $51 billion Governors in the area requested and the Senate agreed to.
Meanwhile, the bill passed today must now go back to the Senate for a vote since the one they passed died with the 112th Congress on Thursday. So stay tuned.
If you like this article share it, Tweet it, or follow me on Facebook.