The Senate by a bipartisan vote of 72-22 Thursday passed H.R. 3370, the House bill that holds the rising flood insurance premiums associated with the Biggert Waters Act to 18% of the plan's annual rate. The bill is now poised to be signed into law by President Obama.
The legislation promises to dole out refunds for victims who sold or bought homes and suffered large rate increases as a result. The bill also holds flood insurance premiums to 18% of the plan's annual rate, and tasks the Federal Emergency Management Agency with "striving" to cap annual premiums for policyholders at 1% of their total coverage. A $150,000 policy, for example, would have a flood insurance premium of $1,500.
Earlier this week, it looked like an objection by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would stall the process, but negotiations by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., turned the tide in favor of Thursday's vote.
The legislation's passing marks the end of a long journey toward the middle ground. In January, the Senate passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which aimed to delay the Biggert-Waters flood insurance rate hikes by four years.
The House never voted on that bill. Instead, representatives passed their own bill, that lacked the four-year delay, by a vote of 306-91.
Faced with constituents drowning in rising payments, senators from flood states had a choice: Compromise, or drag the painful process out even longer with debate.
"Residents had come to me in tears, saying they were afraid they’d lose their homes," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
Thursday's vote represented compromise.
"This bill isn't perfect, but it will solve [rising premiums]," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., shortly before the vote.
Sen. Landrieu praised the legislation's quick turnaround by saying it "really passed it in record time, given the pace around here."
Provided the legislation is signed into law, it will shift the debate from whether or not premiums will lower to when they will lower.