Flood insurance hikes should be fair

An important test of whether Congress really can get important things done – or, alternatively, is mired in the gridlock critics claim – affects thousands of area homeowners and business people.

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. Many residents are being informed their premiums for flood insurance are skyrocketing. 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.

There’s another problem, too: Flood insurance doesn’t always work. It did little to help people recover from two huge floods in the Adirondacks in 2011. Some people forced to buy it didn’t get flooded, and many who did weren’t required to have flood insurance because their buildings were old enough to be “grandfathered in.” They chose to go without it because its premiums were, even then, more expensive than rebuilding every few years.

That’s why it seems out of line to fix the problem with major increases in insurance premiums for many properties covered by the program. 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 67-32 vote Thursday, senators agreed to delay implementation of the new premium structure.

Many Republicans who voted against the measure 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 other Senate Republicans 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 hikes are fair and do not harm property owners unreasonably.

Surely both Republican and Democrat lawmakers 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.