WASHINGTON — In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to roll back flood insurance rate increases that have devastated many homeowners in coastal communities and dogged lawmakers on the campaign trail.
The deal, brokered by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., with a bipartisan coalition of coastal state lawmakers, sailed through the House, 306 to 91, despite protests from conservative Republicans that the changes would add to the national debt.
“It is said by the media and others that we cannot work together,” Waters said before the vote. “This is a time when we really can demonstrate that we really do care about the citizens of this country.”
The unusual moment of comity in the deeply partisan House left lawmakers almost gushing over the new relationships they had formed working with one another across the aisle.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., who told horror stories of his constituents facing massive insurance rate increases on their homes, said: “It is nice, once in a while, where we can work together and get something done.”
The legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which passed a bipartisan bill this year that was essentially dead on arrival in the House. That measure added $2.1 billion to the deficit over the decade and was rejected by GOP leaders. Waters pushed the Senate version forward in the House over the objections of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other leaders, and forced procedural votes on the bill last month.
Even though she failed, the exercise increased pressure for a compromise by putting Republican lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of having to oppose legislation many of their constituents wanted.
Flood insurance rates started skyrocketing last year after new provisions went into effect as part of an earlier overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program signed into law in 2012.
That earlier effort sought to push up flood insurance rates to more accurately reflect risk and cover a deficit in the flood insurance program.
But homeowners, including those in the Gulf states and in the path of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast, saw enormous rate increases as their properties were suddenly included in federal flood insurance maps. Others complained they could not sell their homes because buyers could not afford the higher rates.
The Senate bill simply delayed the increases for four years while the Federal Emergency Management Agency studied the issue. The House compromise would roll back some rates and allow more modest rate increases of 5 percent a year on others, with a cap of 18 percent a year on primary residences.
To avoid raising the deficit, the House bill would impose a $25 fee on each household, $250 on businesses and second homes. Outside conservative groups, including Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, pushed for a “no” vote.
The issue has been particularly important in Louisiana, where Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who had been a chief supporter of the Senate bill, faces a difficult re-election fight. She worked with Waters on the compromise. Among her opponents is Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who also supported the bill in the House.