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Patrick T.
Republican PA

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  • Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Patrick J. Toomey

    Posted on 2014-01-15

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    Read More about Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed

    TOOMEY. Mr. President, I rise to address this situation we find ourselves in on the unemployment bill.

    I have to say that this most recent episode in which the majority leader refuses to permit an open process, refuses to allow debate, refuses to allow the kinds of amendments Republicans would like to offer to improve this bill is very disturbing and is now part of a very well-established trend.

    It is actually shocking to me that over the last 6 months, since July of last year, through today, this body has voted on a grand total of four Republican amendments--four recorded votes on Republican amendments in 6 months.

    Under every previous majority leader, under every previous majority the Senate didn't work this way. It would be routine to have four votes in a morning before we broke for lunch. We have had four votes on our ideas that have been permitted in 6 months. So we are systemically being shut out of the process.

    What is particularly maddening about this is that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle know full well that the votes are there to pass an extension of unemployment insurance. They know it. If they would allow an open amendment process, we would have a few amendments, we would have a debate, and we would have some votes. In the course of an afternoon, maybe two, we would have finished up last week and we would have passed an extension of unemployment benefits.

    Evidently that is not the goal of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. They insisted on making sure we could not engage in this debate, offer the amendments, and do this in a way consistent with what the American people want us to do, which is move forward in the most sensible way possible.

    I have an example this morning of the kind of very modest reform we would like. As for myself, I think that we should extend unemployment benefits for certain Americans who are in the really tough circumstances in which they find themselves provided that the cost of doing so is properly offset with a legitimate offset so we don't simply add still more to our excessive deficit and debt; that we have some modest reforms; that we begin the process of fixing a program that doesn't work. If this is working, then why are there so many Americans who are unemployed for such long periods of time? Clearly, this program is not working.

    Let me give one example of an amendment I think most Pennsylvanians think is common sense. It is an amendment Senator Coburn offered, and it would simply end Federal unemployment benefits for people who have an income of over $1 million a year.

    My guess is that most Pennsylvanians are shocked to discover that we extend unemployment benefits to millionaires. And I am not talking about a net worth of $1 million, someone who maybe has a farm that is worth $1 million on paper but they might have no income. No. I am talking about people who actually have earned income of over $1 million and then they stop working and start collecting unemployment benefits. I think most people think that is ridiculous.

    It is not as isolated as we may think. In 2011 there were over 3,200 households that reported income of over $1 million, and yet they were paid $30 million in unemployment benefits. In fact, there were over 100 households that had income of over $5 million. And taxpayers are paying them unemployment benefits? This doesn't make sense, and it doesn't make sense to Members of this body.

    In April of 2011 the Senate had a vote on the substance of this very amendment--ending unemployment benefits for millionaires and multimillionaires--and the vote was 100 to 0 in favor of making this modest reform to this program. Now, if we did actually enact this reform, it would save about $300 million over 10 years, which could go to paying for benefits for the people who actually need extended unemployment insurance.

    Of all of the Members of the Senate who are here today and were here at the time of this vote in 2011--that is the vast majority--everyone agreed. There is no dissent on this. There are bipartisan cosponsors of this amendment, Democratic and Republican alike, who recognize this is just common sense. So despite the fact this is not controversial, that it is germane and relevant, that it is a modest reform that makes sense and would save money and would free resources to pay unemployment benefits for the people who truly need it, despite all of those facts, we are blocked. We are not allowed to offer this amendment on the Senate floor.

    We attempted it yesterday. The minority leader, the senior Senator from Kentucky, asked unanimous consent to offer this amendment. That consent was denied. So then he moved to table or to eliminate, if you will, the amendments the majority leader uses to block our opportunities to offer our own, his blocking amendments, and the majority party defeated that attempt to do away with those blocking amendments. As we sit here this morning, the majority leader continues to block our opportunity to offer any amendments, even a modest, commonsense amendment with bipartisan support that passed this body 100 to 0.

    I am going to make one more attempt to offer this amendment because I cannot for the life of me understand why we cannot have a vote on this little bit of common sense.

    I rise to offer the Coburn amendment, No. 2606, to S. 1845.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Heitkamp). The amendment is not in order as the motion to proceed to S. 1846 is the pending question.

    Mr. TOOMEY. I move to appeal the ruling of the Chair that the Coburn amendment is not in order.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The appeal is debatable.

    Mr. TOOMEY. I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, I come to the floor this morning to talk about another very important bill. There was an hour exchange about unemployment, which is extremely important for the Nation. I think people got to hear arguments on both sides. They can continue to try to process that.

    I came to the floor this morning to talk about another very important piece of legislation that we do have very deep and very genuine bipartisan support for; that is, the flood insurance provision, the Homeowner Affordability Act, which will correct some of the more egregious provisions of a bill that passed a year-and-a-half ago called Biggert-Waters.

    The bill, Biggert-Waters, that was passed, named for the two Members of the House who led that effort, was well intentioned. In fact, I have had many wonderful conversations with Maxine Waters, the absolutely distinguished Congresswoman from California whose name is carried on that bill.

    She had wonderful intentions because California, like Louisiana, depends on a program to work that is sustainable and affordable, but she even recognized and has been so gracious with her time to come to Louisiana to say we intended for this to fix the problem, but I admit we made it worse; the way FEMA has interpreted some of the things we have done has made it worse and the fact that the Federal Government continues, despite our efforts, to recognize levees people have built. So she has agreed to help lead our effort to reform a bill she and Congresswoman Judy Biggert passed a year-and-a-half ago.

    [[Page S339]] I wish to start by commending the leadership. In the House, the effort is being led by Congresswoman Waters and Congressman Grimm. There are chairs of standing committees, working with them as we speak, to figure out how to move forward in the House.

    But in the Senate we have been working so well together. Despite all of the commotion and adversarial positions on other issues, we put together a very excellent coalition of about 200 organizations. I am going to read those names in just a minute--200 organizations that have been working with us to fashion a reform bill that meets these objectives.

    The Presiding Officer has spoken on the floor of the Senate now at least a half dozen times that I have listened to her speak on the floor, so she knows all this that I am going to say because she said it even better than I can. But the provisions that are in our reform bill for flood insurance meet important goals. First of all, it is affordable to the middle-class people who are required to have it. That is the most important thing about flood insurance, that it be affordable to the people required to have it.

    Yes, there are some very wealthy families who live in mansions on beaches that are required to have it. They will have no problem paying a substantial premium. But there are millions of middle-class families--many of them in Louisiana--who do not live anywhere near the water and they most certainly do not live in mansions on the beach. They live in middle-class, blue-collar, working neighborhoods far from lakes, a distance from rivers, and nowhere near the ocean. They have found themselves caught up in paying premiums they cannot afford.

    If we do not fix this, the premiums coming into the program will be less and less. People will be defaulting on homes. Banks, communities will take a downward economic spiral and the program itself will collapse.

    We cannot have this program collapse. So even though our critics--and this has been in the newspapers--are saying we are trying to saddle taxpayers with a huge debt, nothing could be further from the truth. We are trying to save taxpayers from a big bailout by reforming a program that needs to be reformed and fixed so middle-class people can afford it, banks can operate well with it, homebuilders can build homes with it, realtors can sell the homes with the program, which they are not able to do now. Everyone can get back to work, anxiety can be reduced and give us some time to figure out how to reach those two important goals: so the taxpayers do not have to bail us out and homeowners and businesses can afford it. Is that too much to ask? I don't think so.

    Happily, Senator Menendez and Senator Isakson, two veteran leaders of the Senate, have put a very good bill together. We are ready to vote. We are ready to vote. We could vote, actually, right now if we could just get a few matters worked out.

    I would like to talk about what those few matters are publicly so people can start working them out because I think the more things that are transparent around here the better off we all are and things that are done in secret are usually problematic.

    Let me say to the many people following this that the base bill is still basically in the order that everyone understands it to be. It is printed. It has been visible, public, for weeks now. That bill that is the basic essence of the compromises worked out by Senator Menendez and Senator Isakson and, I might say, with Senator Merkley's extraordinary leadership as a subcommittee chair, that is the base bill. There are amendments that Senators want to offer. Happily they are all related to flood.

    To my knowledge--and Senator Isakson has worked through this, as I have, and Senator Menendez--there is a Hagan provision about escrow requirements that we think we should vote on. We are not sure how that vote will turn out, but we are happy to vote on it. There is a Blunt amendment the National Association of Home Builders has suggested we have an amendment on. We could vote on that as well. There is a Crapo amendment that is in the works. Some of these amendments have been filed and have language. Some of them are just in theory form. There is a Crapo amendment that would adjust the rate increases in the underlying bill. We could vote on that. There is a Reed amendment, Senator Reed of Rhode Island. This would require FEMA to conduct a study on the viability of offering community-based flood insurance policies. My notes say there is broad support for that.

    There is a Coburn amendment, which is an alternative to the NARAB. That amendment will probably not receive the votes required, but we are happy to talk about his amendment and have him offer it. There is a Merkley amendment that will subject NFIB policyholders to force-placed insurance policies if they let their policies lapse--it is a technical amendment--and also a Rubio-Nelson amendment that is being discussed.

    Those are the only amendments we know about. If there is anybody else who has an amendment on flood who would like to offer it or have it considered, the next couple of hours would be the last opportunity to get those amendments in. I know everybody is busy. I cleared my calendar. I had meeting. I cleared my calendar to do this today because it is very important that we not just get so busy with other things that we leave this place and not get this done. We are working transparently, openly, so there are no games to be played by either side.

    Again, I wish to repeat, there is a Hagan amendment pending--not pending but that we know of--a Rubio-Nelson, a Reed of Rhode Island, a Coburn, a Merkley, a Blunt, and then Toomey, who was just on the floor, the Senator from Pennsylvania, has indicated he wants to offer a substitute to what we are proposing.

    I am not the manager of this bill so it is not my authority to make these definitive statements. Senator Menendez and Senator Isakson will ultimately decide the strategy. But as far as I understand, because we have all been working very hard together to move this bill to final passage--as far as I understand, these are the only amendments people would like to offer and there does not seem to be any objection to offering them.

    In addition, if people want 51 votes or if they want 60 votes, we are very open to that as well. We could pass the bill with 51 votes, we could pass the bill with 60 votes, so we are open. That is the game that is played here. You say we want 60, no, we want 51 or 51 and 60-- we can take it in any arithmetic anyone wants to give us. You want 51 votes, we can deliver them. You want 60 votes, we can deliver 60 votes because we have done the homework on this bill, working with coalitions, working with homeowners and businesses from South Dakota and North Dakota to New Jersey and New York, Mississippi, Louisiana, California, and Oregon. There is no disagreement.

    Well, there is some disagreement, but there is not enough disagreement to overcome the great coalition which was put together, which was evidenced by an extraordinary press conference a couple of days ago, where almost 20 Senators showed up, or they were represented by their staffs, saying we are ready to go. My message on the floor--I don't know how many more minutes I have.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has used 12 minutes.

    Ms. LANDRIEU. I would like another 5; I ask unanimous consent.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Ms. LANDRIEU. What was evidenced earlier--and the coalition knows this--there is broad consensus. There are a few Senators who want to vote against this bill. There are a few Senators who want to offer amendments. Fine. Let the record show these amendments could be offered--these amendments, germane to this bill and any that would come to us in the next hour or so that are germane to this bill, we can take these amendments and have a 51-vote, a 60-vote requirement, and final passage on 51 or 60. Let's just get this done.

    There should be no confusion at all. I am glad no one on the opposite side is here debating me on this. That is a good sign for us that there truly is only one side to this story and this is the side.

    I am trying to be as fair as I can. I have named the people who have amendments, to our knowledge. We, the Democrats, have said we have no [[Page S340]] objection to them offering those amendments. If they want 51 or 60 votes, just let us know. I feel confident that our coalition can hold against any amendments that would try to gut this bill.

    We will let people know what those amendments are and who has offered them because we think this is absolutely right for the country, for the States we represent, and for the taxpayer. Give us a little time to work together to figure out how to strengthen the National Flood Insurance Program without bankrupting 5 million families. If we don't stop this train that has already left the station--we have to stop it, reverse it, and put it back in the train barn because it is going down the track pretty fast. This is not a good place to be.

    As I said, we probably should have never passed this bill, but it was put in a conference committee report that was unamendable and some provisions of it were indecipherable at the time. That is a little strong of a word, but they were not well understood. It wasn't that it was indecipherable; it was not well understood. After the bill was read and implemented, people thought, oh, my gosh, what have we done? This is not going to work. And they were right.

    I am going to stay on the floor this morning. If anyone on the Republican side wants to come down and disagree and challenge what I have presented, please do so because I want this to be a very open process. There is nothing for us to hide from, and that is what a democracy is about.

    There are some people who want to vote against our bill. Fine. Go ahead and vote against it. We have the votes to pass it. As I said, we have 60 votes. We may even have more than 60 votes. If we don't have the votes, all I can say is we tried our level best and we don't have the votes to correct it. I don't think that is the case.

    I am not going to allow the smoke and confusion and all the hot air around here to confuse the coalition that has worked too hard, and they need to hear my voice very clearly, which is why I am here. There is clarity. There is no opposition on the Democratic side to this bill. We are waiting for a few clarifications from the Republican side. We hope to get those clarifications. The only Democrats who have amendments that I know of are Senator Hagan, Senator Reed from Rhode Island, and Senator Merkley. We have no objection on the Democratic side for this bill and there are only three Members who have amendments, and we are happy to have a vote on those amendments. They are not controversial. Somebody might have a problem with them and might vote no. Fine, but they don't gut the bill. There is no problem with the bill.

    We are waiting on the Republican side for clarity. Again, I know how busy everyone is. I know the Senator from Pennsylvania is working very hard. He was just here speaking about unemployment insurance, and I know that is a very important issue to the people he represents, and to Louisiana. If he could get a little time to work on the amendment that we think he wants to offer on flood whenever he can, we are happy to have his amendment, and we will vote on it.

    Senators Isakson and Menendez will decide when and how and what the number is--51 or 60. As far as I am concerned, it doesn't matter. If his intention is to gut the bill, the bill will not be gutted. If his intention is to strengthen the bill, then that is a definite possibility. People are desperate to get an answer from Congress now. We should have done this 4 months ago before these rate increases. Escrow accounts are being collected. Some people were paying $500 a year and now they are paying $5,000. According to the Biggert-Waters law, the banks have to get that $5,000 and put it in the bank now to pay that insurance. That is a real hardship on people. We need to stop that and figure this out.

    Madam President, I ask for 1 additional minute. I think I have extended my time already.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Ms. LANDRIEU. We have delayed this fix too long, and we need to go ahead and take care of it. I am going to stay on the floor this morning. I will periodically bring everyone up to date.

    I will close by reminding people what we are talking about. These are the new flood maps in the United States. The purple shows where it is in effect, green shows the proposed areas, and yellow shows the new flood map. There is not a State that is exempt from what I am speaking about. The amazing thing is to see this cluster in Pennsylvania, New York, and in Ohio. Everyone thinks about this as a Texas, Florida, or Louisiana issue. But when we see the inland States being affected by flood maps--States that have never been issued before are being issued without good data because FEMA doesn't have the science, technology, or resources to do this correctly yet. The affordability study has not even been done, and they didn't do it even though the last bill asked them to do it.

    We need to put this train back in the station. It is not ready for prime time. We need to bring it out in a way that, yes, rates may have to rise. No one is opposed to that. But rates have to rise in a way that people can afford them and can be notified.

    From our standpoint, Louisiana would like levees to be recognized. Since we spent billions of dollars of the taxpayers' money building them, we would like them to be recognized. If you are behind a levee, you don't have to pay $15,000 a year because you already paid for the levee. You don't pay twice. Taxpayers should not have to pay three times. They are happy to pay their fair share. Most everybody I know is happy to pay their fair share. But under Biggert-Waters, it is not fair, it is not shared. It has to be not completely pushed back but it has to be delayed, which is what our bill does.

    I will stay on the floor, and if someone comes to the floor, that is fine. I will talk about this. It is important to get this done. I am an appropriator. I am chair of Homeland Security. This is a big, important bill for our country. This bill is almost as important--don't get me wrong, it is not as important as the whole Appropriations bill, but there are 5 million people who are getting ready to lose their home or business, and it is really important to them. It is important for us since there doesn't seem to be any real objection to work hard to get it done.

    I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the time during the quorum call be equally divided between the Republicans and the Democrats.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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