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Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WESTMORELAND. Mr. Chairman, this kind of reminds me of a story about a World War I Navy veteran that went back home to Ware County where he loved to coon hunt. And this gentleman, after having being injured, got a wooden peg leg. One day, he took his boys out. They were all around the campfire. It was kind of cool that night. They were waiting for the dogs to tree one. So he got a little bit close to the fire, and it burned about 8 inches off of his wooden peg. So all of a sudden, the hounds start baying, and he gets up and starts running. He ran about 20 yards and turned around and said, ``Watch out, boys. There's a hole every other step.''

There's some holes in what this amendment is trying to do. First of all, you've got to remember that this bill was just passed a year ago, and it was the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform bill, where we're trying to reform the flood insurance program. Let me remind people that 406 Members voted in favor of this, and every Member that I see down here that is talking to try to relieve this voted for the bill. Everybody in the Louisiana delegation, everybody in the Mississippi delegation, everybody in the New York delegation--with the exception of one--and everybody in the New Jersey delegation voted for it.

This bill was passed by a unanimous vote, bipartisan, because everybody realized, especially after the effects of Katrina and others, where, in 2005, before Katrina, they had a credit card limit of $1.5 billion, after Katrina, we raised that credit card limit to $20 billion. After Sandy, we raised the credit limit another $10 billion. So right now we've got $30 billion on our credit card. And you know what? In 2017, that has to go back to $1 billion.

If you look at the amount of money that we've had to borrow to pay for this--and I voted for the $9.7 billion because it's an obligation that I think that we had to the people that had flood insurance. That was an obligation that we have.

But the way most insurance works is that if you are at a higher risk, you pay a higher premium. If, for some reason, my car keeps running into things accidentally, my car insurance is probably going to go up. And anybody that has extenuating circumstances, whether you're in a fire zone or whatever it is, your insurance rates are based on that.

The difference is, unfortunately, that the government fashioned, the government-run flood insurance program does not require homeowners in flood-prone areas to pay for their fair share. In fact, premiums in flood-prone areas are so low that FEMA has needed a bailout, as I mentioned, three times in the last 8 years.

Due to FEMA's failures last year, Congress passed a bipartisan Biggert-Waters bill of insurance reform. It was supported, as I mentioned, by these delegations. This landmark 5-year authorization is something that even people here said, We need to do this. In fact, I will quote:

It is imperative that Congress act as quickly as possible to pass a 5-year extension of flood insurance so that policyholders can have some assurance moving forward.

This is by one of the authors of the amendment.

Section 207 does something that no other flood bill has done before. It says that homeowners in flood zones must pay an amount that accurately reflects their risk of flooding. Notably, Congress recognized this section may place a burden on some homeowners in flood-prone areas. So, to address this concern, section 207 specifically stated that the rate increase must be phased in over 5 years, not to exceed a 20 percent increase each year. The outcome is commonsense reforms that are supported by Republicans and Democrats, alike, that balance concerns of homeowners and taxpayers.

Now, I'm no supporter of the government-mandated flood insurance, but these are bipartisan reforms that you don't often see passed in Washington. Let's don't back up. Let's keep going forward. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act was designed to get FEMA out of this constant bailout, but to be fair to people who experienced frequent flooding. Importantly, these bipartisan reforms were enacted less than a year ago in the Financial Services Committee. We have not even held a hearing on the implementation. This does not need to be in an appropriations bill. It needs to go back to Financial Services and let us look at it.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WESTMORELAND. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

And let me just say that, you know, FEMA--this does not go into effect this year. In fact, the Louisiana FEMA has been told not to give out these rates because they don't know, they've been trying to do a flood map for 30 years.

Now, if we think a 1-year extension is going to help them, we're misleading ourselves. And, in fact, from my legislative experience, when you extend it for 1 year, then you're asked to extend it again. Look at the student loans. We extended it for 1 year, now they want to extend it for 2 more. It's a constant extension.

My experience has been most court cases are settled on the courthouse steps when the pressure is put on both people to settle.

I think that this is bringing to a head the fact that FEMA needs to get their act together, along with the Corps, and get these flood maps done. By us giving them another year extension, it's not going to do anything but delay us getting these updated maps for another year. I promise you, that's the way government works.

So we need to understand that, on the one hand, we're saying, well, FEMA has given out all these new rates. It's going to go to 20,000 bucks or whatever it is.

But on the same hand we're saying hey, they don't have the capability of doing a flood map. You can't have it both ways. You know, either FEMA can do it or they can't do it.

But we need to do this through the Financial Services Committee, where the ranking member, the gentlelady from California, was a big part of what we did in the Biggert-Waters bill. And so why don't we take it and go back through Financial Services, where this bill came from, rather than trying to do it through an appropriations bill?

That's the reason this process is so messed up here that we try to do things like this.

So, my concern is that this is the wrong place to try to amend this bill. We need to have hearings. We need to have oversight of FEMA and find out how the implementation of this bill is going, and put the pressure on FEMA and the Corps to finally get these maps straightened out.

But for somebody to have a home that's 7 feet below flood level and pay $329 a year in a premium doesn't make sense.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WESTMORELAND. I do appreciate the gentleman yielding.

FEMA has already stated that their staff in Louisiana were wrong to provide these estimates based on inaccurate and incomplete information. They have already said that. In reality, no one knows--not FEMA, not any of my colleagues--how much folks in those flood zones will pay for premiums under section 207. It's still being evaluated. Flood maps change after every flood, and they're going to continue to do it because of development and more impervious surface and other things that cause flooding to create in different areas.

There is an appeal process that you can go through; but the best place to do this is where it originated, which is in the Financial Services Committee, not as an amendment on an appropriations bill.

How many hearings have been held on this amendment? None. We're always talking about regular order. That's our cry, Regular order. Why don't we go through the regular process, go through the same committee that this bill originated out of and see if there's not some oversight that we can offer to FEMA to make sure that these people are not hit with these high premiums and that everybody gets on the same page and we understand that if these improvements have been made by cities and counties or homeowners, that they need to be taken into consideration. But this is not the way to do it.

We talk about unintended consequences. I think this bill was 75 pages long. I can read section 207 if you want me to, but it's pretty plain in what it says. There are no unintended consequences to this. This is exactly what it said.

If you want to talk about revisiting unintended consequences, let's look at the 2,800-page Affordable Care Act. We can look at some unintended consequences then. But this is plain and simple. This isn't asking to create another agency or board or commission; this is trying to make FEMA and the Corps do their job on this mapping. This is the wrong place, it's the wrong time, it's the wrong bill to do this.

I would work in a joint effort with these people to try to bring some resolution to this problem. But you've got to remember that these fees do not come into effect this year, and nobody knows what they're going to be.

You know, the Congress is either at stop or knee-jerk reaction. This is something that needs to be carefully thought out. It needs to go through the subcommittee, the committee process.

The chairman has promised that he is going to review this and look at the implementation of it. If we believe in regular order, let's give the system time to work, and let's put it in the committee where the work was originally done.

With that, I just hope that it will be a ``no'' vote on this, that it can go back to the committee that Ms. Waters and others have put in a bill. Let's go back, let's review it, let's look at it, let's bring FEMA in, and let's do some oversight--which is our responsibility in the Financial Services Committee, not the Appropriations Committee.


Mr. WESTMORELAND. I'd like to address Mr. Runyan's amendment with the flood insurance. We've had great discussion on this tonight about the flood insurance and how appropriate it is to come through an appropriations bill rather than going through regular order and going through the committee of origination, which is the Financial Services Committee. So I don't want to take up any more time. We have been through this and through this and through this.

With all respect to the gentleman from New Jersey, I just don't know that it's proper to do something specific for just two States when there's 5.5 million people in other States that have flood insurance that are involved in this. We can give the committee of authority the ability to address the FEMA situation.

With that, I ask for a ``no'' vote, and I yield back the balance of my time.


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