Congress should rethink this

An important test of whether Congress really can get important things done – or, alternatively, is mired in the gridlock critics claim – affects purchasers of federal flood insurance.

A law enacted in 2012, involving the federal flood insurance program, has had consequences not foreseen by many members of Congress who voted for it. Across the nation many people are being informed their premiums for flood insurance will skyrocket. That will make it more difficult for them to make ends meet. It also will make it virtually impossible for some of them to sell their property.

Congress clearly had to do something about the flood insurance program. It has a deficit of about $24 billion, largely as a result of enormous claims linked to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Major increases in insurance premiums for many properties covered by the program seem out of line, however. That has led to speculation the government is boosting premiums for inland property owners to cover losses on coastal storms.

Most members of the U.S. Senate agree the process is flawed. By an 86-13 vote recently, senators agreed on a procedural matter to advance a bill that would delay implementation of the new premium structure.

All 13 senators who voted against the measure are Republicans. Many worry the bill is an attempt to saddle taxpayers with an entitlement program providing flood insurance at rates subsidized by the government. Many Republicans in the House of Representatives have similar concerns.

But 31 of the Senate’s GOP members voted in favor of the delay in collecting higher premiums. They seem to understand the goal of delaying the change should not be to burden taxpayers with another entitlement – but merely to ensure premium increases are fair and do not harm property owners unreasonably.

Surely both Republican and Democrat lawmakers in both the Senate and House can agree that is a worthwhile goal.

In this case, it appears the obstacle is in the House. There, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, should work to pass a bill that delays the higher premiums while a scientific study of whether they are realistic and fair is completed. If Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, cannot agree on that, something truly is wrong in Washington.