By Bruce Alpert
Just in the nick of time, the House Wednesday night approved a 60-day extension of the National Flood Insurance Program. The approval came by voice vote. The program was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, the official start of the 2012 hurricane season.
The Senate approved the extension last week, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign the extension into law on Thursday.
If the program had lapsed, it would have caused cancellations of house closings in communities where mortgage lenders require flood insurance.
Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., said the extension does include one important reform -- an end to subsidized rates for second and vacation homes. She said an unofficial Congressional Budget Office staff estimate pegged the savings from this provision at approximately $2 billion to $2.5 billion over 10 years.
Still, she said, it's time for the Senate to follow the House lead and pass a five-year extension, including provisions allowing gradual increases in insurance premiums to bring the program closer to meeting actual costs.
"The National Flood Insurance Program is over $17 billion in debt to taxpayers," Biggert said. "And, since 2008, Congress has enacted 16 stop-gap measures to keep the program running. Today's bill can and should be the last short-term extension, because this program is too important to let lapse, and too in debt to continue without reform."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he plans to schedule a vote on a five-year flood insurance extension, with reforms, during June.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said it's long past the time to bring some stability to the program, which provides coverage to about 500,000 policyholders in Louisiana.
"While I support this 60-day extension, this stop-gap measure does not ensure long-term certainty for homeowners in Louisiana, and I'm calling on the Senate to finally take action on a five-year reauthorization like the House did last July," Scalise said.