Watching Congress try to get things done — and usually failing — can be an infuriating experience. On one specific issue, though the prospect of a delay is actually promising news.
The National Flood Insurance Program expired last fall, and Congress has yet to reauthorize it. Instead, it's issued a series of short-term extensions, the latest of which runs through Feb. 8.
And the Advocate's Bryn Stole reported last week that the hopes for a full revamp, one that would set the all-important program on a more sustainable path, are fading. Instead, it's looking increasingly likely that a full reconsideration of the NFIP might be pushed into next year, under the Congress that will be elected this fall.
This may be disappointing to the Louisiana lawmakers who've been working on the issue with representatives from other flood-prone areas, a club that seems to grow every year. But it may be that delay has a considerable up side.
There's a lot we don't yet know about the next Congress at this point.
Louisiana's delegation, which is basically united on this issue across party lines, is expected to remain largely the same, but there's a real possibility that Democrats could win majorities in one or both houses. That would prompt a philosophical shift away from the conservative idea that heavily subsidizing risk, as the program clearly does, isn't government's role. It could also give more sway to environmentalists who have other concerns with how the program essentially underwrites development in vulnerable areas. And if the House flips, it would remove a key emissary to Congress's hard-liners, GOP Majority Whip Steve Scalise, from the chamber's leadership.
What we do know, though is that one very well-positioned skeptic of government-backed flood insurance will be gone.
U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Financial Services, has been a thorn in the side of flood insurance supporters for years now, to the point where lawmakers looking to undo some of the unintended side effects of a prior revamp once used a procedural ploy to bypass his committee entirely. He won't be in the way for much longer, though, since he has announced that he won't run for reelection in November.
U.S. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, the Louisiana delegation's lone Democrat, openly cheers the upcoming change. "He is philosophically opposed to the program," Richmond said. "He's just been an obstacle that the Republican leadership has not been willing to roll over yet."
The state's Republicans aren't quite so direct, but several pointed out that Hensarling and the House's conservative "hawks" — with whom they often align on other issues — have prevented progress. Hensarling has his own bill, but U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, said that he doesn't see it getting anywhere in the Senate, and that an extension of current terms into 2019 "might be the best option to allow Congress time to get this right."
Delaying on this would have far fewer consequences than on other matters that lawmakers have put off. When Congress waited more than three months to renew the popular and well-regarded Children's Health Insurance Program, it left families unsure of whether their kids would have access to health care. Unless and until lawmakers agree to an immigration bill, children who were brought to this country illegally, and who lost legal protection when President Donald Trump reversed an Obama administrative policy, still have worry that they'll be deported to countries they've never known.
Yet if the government renews the flood insurance program for a year, things will go on as they have been. That's not ideal for those seeking badly needed reforms, but it's something everyone should be able to live with.
And that, in this case, sounds like the best-case scenario.
Email Stephanie Grace at email@example.com.