BREAKING: Congress actually did its job this week
In an era when most Americans have dismissed the House and Senate as do-nothing bodies, Congress actually did something this week.
The legislation passed and sent to President Obama won’t name a new post office or help Washington avoid another fiscal deadline. It also won’t fix significant problems with the health-care law, immigration or the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. But the bills do address modest concerns that lawmakers hope voters can appreciate and understand.
Friday marked the 73rd day of the year but only the 33rd day that either the House or Senate had been in session. Next week is the third week-long break of the year for Congress. Aides insist that lawmakers are heading home to work on district and home state concerns, but many also have to campaign and prove their staying power to wary voters.
That’s why Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) so eagerly sought credit Thursday for final passage of a bill making changes to the National Flood Insurance Program.
Landrieu and Cassidy are expected to face off in one of the most competitive Senate races this year in a state still rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Neither of them sits on the committees that wrote the flood insurance bill, but that didn’t stop Landrieu from dominating Senate floor debate on the measure and from publishing several sleekly-produced pages on her Senate Web site documenting the concerns of her constituents.
And it didn’t stop Cassidy, either. After the bill passed the Senate 72 to 22, he issued a press release with laudatory statements from House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), who called Cassidy “a leader in the fight to ensure flood insurance remains affordable.” Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), a lead sponsor of the bill, was more explicit: “Bill Cassidy literally wrote the bill with me,” he said, calling his colleague “probably one of the most knowledgeable members of Congress on flood insurance.”
Grimm, whose Staten Island district was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, also could face a difficult reelection this year as he tries to erase a bad-boy image prompted by his angry confrontation with a reporter after the State of the Union. He called passage of the flood insurance bill “one of the proudest moments of my life.”
But it’s unclear whether those types of statements matter any more to voters. Only three in 10 Americans believe their lawmakers deserve another term and more than half of voters are looking to elect someone else, according to a national poll released this week. Fifty-four percent of Americans want to replace every member of Congress. But more than 80 percent of Americans are willing to support lawmakers who compromise and work with the other party, according to the NBC News/Wall Street poll. The drop in public opinion has sparked a renewed eagerness among Democrats and Republicans to cut deals.
To be sure, Congress isn’t done with its partisan bickering. The House this week tried again to delay the individual mandate in the new health-care law and passed a bill that would make it easier for lawmakers to sue Obama if he doesn’t fully enforce federal laws. When they return to Washington, there will be fresh fights overextending unemployment insurance and raising the minimum wage. And lawmakers are expected to approve billions of dollars in assistance to Ukraine, but disagreements over whether to include the International Monetary Fund in the package sparked an angry exchange among senators Thursday afternoon.
But the fighting came only after a remarkably bipartisan week in the Senate.
“Congress Gets Something Done!!!” screamed the e-mail sent by Cantor’s aides Tuesday morning after senators quickly approved a measure he had written. Rather than spending federal dollars to help Democrats and Republicans hold their presidential nominating conventions every four years, Congress agreed to divert about $126 million over the next decade to pediatric medical research. The House passed the bill in December along a mostly party-line vote and senators approved it unanimously, without debate.
“It’s a great example of what we can accomplish when members are willing to work together on behalf of the American people,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said later.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who helped Cantor steer the bill through the Senate, said he didn’t know of any other bills languishing on either side of the U.S. Capitol that could be approved so quickly and without much drama. “But we ought to look,” he said. “It’s in both sides’ interest to do stuff rather than not do stuff.”
Later in the week, senators debated and approved the reauthorization of federally subsidized child care. About 1.6 million children in low-income families benefit from the program, and lawmakers have been eager to make several changes to update federal standards for care.
The bill was debated as part of a plan carefully orchestrated by several senior senators concerned about recent partisan fights and eager to restore a sense of productivity in the Senate. In addition to reauthorizing the child-care funding, debate is expected soon on bipartisan proposals related to federal sentencing reform, assistance for the manufacturing sector and ways to promote energy efficiency.
“They’re not in the top five in terms of what must pass or should pass this year, but they’re important bills,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who helped broker the plan.
As part of the agreement, the bill’s Democratic and Republican sponsors get to lead debate on the bill. So for most of the week, Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called votes on dozens of amendments from members of both parties. Burr served as emcee, providing frequent updates on the vote schedule, while Mikulski served as cheerleader.
“This has been really very good,” she said at one point. “This is the way the Senate ought to work. There were differences, but differences doesn’t mean that it has to be filled with rancor all the time. After all is said and done, people want us to get more things done and less things said.”
The bill easily passed 96 to 2 Thursday afternoon during a flurry of last-minute activity.
The fast pace was proving almost too much for some senators unaccustomed to all of the action. After racing between her office and the Senate floor several times, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joked with reporters that she shouldn’t have worn heels.
Paul Kane contributed to this report.
By Ed O’Keefe,
Senate passes flood insurance bill from Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm by vote of 72-22
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill from Rep. Michael Grimm to repeal staggering increases in flood-insurance rates that would hammer homeowners in flood-prone areas, including those still recovering from Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island.
All that remains now is for Democratic President Barack Obama to sign the measure into law.
“After months of hard work, affordable flood insurance for millions of Americans, especially the Sandy-ravaged families in Staten Island and Brooklyn, is finally just a pen-stroke away,” Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) said. “I commend the Senate for heeding our calls, putting politics aside, and delivering this essential relief for the people we represent.”
The vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate was 72-22. The measure was approved by the GOP House by a vote of 306-91 last week.
“For both houses of Congress, controlled by opposing parties, to pass an identical bill on such an important issue as flood insurance without amendments is almost unheard of in today’s political climate,” Grimm said. “That is a clear testament of the strength of this reform and just how far it will go in keeping families in their homes and businesses open at an affordable rate for generations to come.”
During Senate floor debate, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill would help “middle class people in places like Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Rockaways and the southern shore of Long Island.”
“This is a good day for shorefront areas of New York,” Schumer said. “Flood insurance will now be a friend once again, and not a foe.”
Homeowners, he told reporters during a conference call later, “can let out a big sigh of relief.”
When asked when Obama would sign the bill, Schumer said, “We’re asking him to do it quickly.”
“While I prefer the version we had originally passed in the Senate, it was important to quickly pass this compromise flood insurance bill to help families still recovering from Superstorm Sandy and I urge President Obama to sign it right away,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “Allowing an insurance rate increase would be kicking families while they are down.”
The bill looks to fix unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which included gradual elimination of subsidies aimed at putting the National Flood Insurance Program on sounder financial footing.
But that led to skyrocketing premiums, with some homeowners seeing increases of as much as 500 and 600 percent.
Grimm’s bill limits yearly premium increases to an average of 15 percent, and caps any increase at 18 percent.
Schumer said the 18 percent cap was not as low as he wanted and that it might be revisited “down the road.”
Also under the bill, homes that complied with previous flood maps are grandfathered in and would not see increases under new FEMA flood maps.
And homes that are sold would also not see immediate premium hikes to actuarial levels.
The Congressional Budget Office said that the legislation would not add to the deficit, with costs offset by new flood insurance policy surcharges of $25 for residential properties and $250 for non-residential properties or non-primary residences.
Schumer credited three colleagues who moved the legislation in the Senate: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who sponsored the bill; Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
Menendez authored a flood insurance bill that passed the Senate in January.
“Thanks to a strong, bipartisan effort,” he said, “we have averted the man-made perfect storm that would have crushed thousands of families under the weight of skyrocketing flood insurance rates, forced many from their homes, plummeted property values and destroyed entire communities.”
© 2014 SILive.com. All rights reserved.
Flood insurance sanity: Grimm brokers deal to hold the line on premiums
Staten Island Advance Editorial on March 10, 2014
Thousands of Staten Islanders faced a devastating one-two punch when Hurricane Sandy struck not long after exorbitant rate hikes were approved for U.S. flood insurance policies.
Many Island homeowners were already paying annual premiums of $2,500 or more for flood coverage even before those looming increases hit, bringing their premiums to perhaps $10,000 or higher.
So Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island deserves appreciation for winning House approval of his bill to ward off those new expenses following the 2012 hurricane.
The Senate already had passed similar legislation to ease financial worries related to the threat of flooding.
Nowhere does this help in the insurance crisis come as a greater relief than on Staten Island. Jacking up flood premiums would needlessly have added a manmade blow to Mother Nature’s wrath.
As Alex Tacoronte of Dorp Beach said, “We’d be stuck with these homes that nobody is going to want to buy. Who is going to want to buy a house that is going to have an extra $1,000 a month just for flood insurance?”
Under reforms designed to reduce costly federal subsidies, the rate hikes due for flood insurance were particularly high in older coastal communities, such as those on Staten Island and elsewhere in New York City.
This put a damper on home sales in flooded neighborhoods amid fears of future uncovered damage.
The House bill imposes a lower cap on insurance premiums and repeals a provision to impose sharp increases on buyers of homes in flood-prone areas. It also preserves below-market insurance rates for people whose homes meet federal flood map standards.
“It’s a blessing that they put a cap on it,” New Dorp Beach homeowner Domenick Camerada said. “That’s going to keep the people down here, and give them some sense of hope that they’re not going to get pushed out of their house, because without having a cap on the flood insurance, it forces you to just walk away.”
The Senate, which is now expected to go along for the most part with the House legislation, had voted to delay the flood insurance overhaul for four years.
The nationwide federal subsidy program is currently about $24 billion in the red, mostly because of huge losses from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricanes Sandy.
The insurance reforms that had been initiated by Congress were an effort to wean hundreds of thousands of homeowners off the heavily subsidized federal rates.
But Rep. Maxine Waters, who co-sponsored the 2012 bill as well as the latest fix, said that dramatic premium hikes were neither anticipated nor intended.
Ms. Waters (D-Calif.) hailed Mr. Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) for working to bring about bipartisan support in an election year for the new legislation.
For his part, Mr. Grimm said he was proud to contribute to a “rare moment of harmony in a Congress increasingly defined by bitterness and resentment.”
There is much agreement on Capitol Hill with President Obama’s belief that a phased transition to risk-based flood insurance rates is to be sought.
But doing this so abruptly while victims of Hurricane Sandy are still reeling would have been too much to bear. Especially on storm-ravaged Staten Island.
Victims Wonder Why Only Small Amount of Build It Back Funds Have Been Spent
The federal government has given the city billions of dollars to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy, but only a tiny fraction of that money has been spent, and hurricane victims, and lawmakers want to know why. NY1′s Michael Herzenberg filed the following report.
Victor and Tami Cherichetti still love each other. They’re separated now, but not because they want to be.
Tami shares two rooms with their two kids in her parents’ place in Canarsie, and Victor lives with his parents in Bensonhurst.
“It’s a strain,” Victor Cherichetti said. “When I do stay here, we have no privacy.”
Their Gerritsen Beach home was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Now, they’re waiting on Build It Back to find out how much, if anything, they’ll get to rebuild.
“All they would have to do is say, ‘Alright, we approved you. Now, your money is guaranteed. Spend your money in that aspect, and we’ll reimburse you so you can continue the project,’” Victor Cherichetti said. “That would move the project on so much faster.”
They’re not alone. In fact, nearly 20,000 people have applied to the city for Build It Back. About 2,500 have had their awards calculated, and according to the city’s own website, only 154 have been selected.
Take a look at the city’s pie charts. Of the $648 million earmarked for Build It Back, just $9.7 million has been spent.
Federal lawmakers say that is unacceptable
“One person is being told one thing, another person is being told another, and every person at Build it Back seems to be giving different information,” said Rep. Michael Grimm, whose district covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. “The program is completely broken.”
Grimm said to look at the state’s performance. The feds gave the state $838 million for housing recovery programs. It has written $573 million worth of checks to 7,097 homeowners for Hurricane Sandy repairs and buyouts.
Sen. Charles Schumer says that that proves it’s not the state or the feds. He says that the city under the Bloomberg administration took its “sweet time.”
“With the city, we got a stonewall,” Schumer said. “I don’t want to prejudge the new mayor, and I want to give him, as I said, a little time to get his people in place.”
Anthony Shorris, the city’s deputy mayor for operations, admitted that the city’s performance is indefensible, adding that the administration hopes to reorganize the program in the coming weeks.
The Cherichettis are skeptical.
“I just think talk is cheap,” Tami Cherichetti said.
Flood insurance cap ‘a blessing’ — may help some Staten Islanders stay in their homes
By Michael Sedon/Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND — New Dorp Beach homeowner Domenick Camerada called the cap on flood insurance premiums a “blessing” that will help Staten Islanders like him stay in their homes after sinking thousands of dollars into repairs after Hurricane Sandy.
Although Camerada received help from many volunteer organizations with his continuing repairs, he still used about $60,000 of his “hard-earned money” to get started, he said.
“It came to the point where I was paying $5,700 for flood insurance,” Camerada said. “It’s a blessing that they put a cap on it. That’s going to keep the people down here, and give them some sense of hope that they’re not going to get pushed out of their house because without having a cap on the flood insurance it forces you to just walk away.”
After paying flood insurance for 18 years, his premium rose to equal about the same in tuition that it costs to send his son to Monsignor Farrell High School for a year. So a couple years before Sandy hit, Camerada paid off his mortgage so he could drop the expensive flood insurance.
“I took the gamble, pretty much like everybody else did that couldn’t afford the flood insurance rates, and I wound up paying the price,” Camerada said. “But even after hearing the people that did have flood insurance, I think I made the right decision because they try to fight the insurance companies to get the money to rebuild, and they’re in the same process that I am. They didn’t get help.”
On Tuesday, Congress passed Rep. Michael Grimm’s Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which derails potentially huge increases in flood insurance premiums for those in flood-prone areas, including Staten Islanders still recovering from Sandy.
The bipartisan bill garnered 180 Democratic votes, and 126 Republican. Another 86 Republicans voted no, while five Democrats did so.
“It’s hard to find the words to express how incredibly proud I am to have sponsored this tremendous victory for my constituents as well as one of Congress’ most consequential bipartisan achievement in recent years,” Grimm said.
It now goes to the Senate, which had previously passed its own flood insurance bill.
That bill included gradual elimination of subsidies, aimed at putting the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which has been in the red for years, on sounder financial footing.
But that led to increased premiums and “sticker shock” among homeowners. Some saw increases of as much as 500 and 600 percent. The Grimm bill caps any yearly increases at 18 percent.
Going forward, Camerada said knowing his flood insurance will remain relatively stable will help him to stay in his neighborhood, which he loves.
“We have a little relief knowing that we’re going to be paying that amount and it’s not going to go through the roof,” he added. “If the flood insurance goes up to $10,000 a year, it’s like a mortgage payment.”
Some residents are still considering moving anyway.
Many “for sale” signs could be seen in Alex Tacoronte’s New Dorp Beach neighborhood, and he said the cap will help those people sell knowing that the premium will not go up to $13,000 as he previously heard.
“Being able to sell these houses too is a big help,” Tacoronte said. “We put basically our savings into repairing the house. The insurance still hasn’t paid out.”
He said higher premiums would “devastate” his neighborhood.
“We’d be stuck with these homes that nobody is going to want to buy,” he said. “Who is going to want to buy a house that is going to have an extra $1,000 a month just for flood insurance.”
Alex Penack saw a small increase to his premium, but felt his Midland Beach neighborhood would not see massive hikes.
“There’s rumors that (flood insurance) is going to go up to $10,000 within five years, and then the neighborhood would be unaffordable,” Penack said. “But I’m not sure if this particular area would go up that high. I don’t think it warrants it.”
Penack is considering whether to sell, and insurance costs may still play into that decision.
“Eighteen percent is steep,” Penack said. “Anybody with a mortgage, it would make it unaffordable. Somebody would really have to want to live near the water to do that.”
House Approves Bill That Prevents Steep Flood Insurance Rate Hikes
It took some time, but House leaders were finally able to pass legislation that would put the brakes on rising flood insurance rates.
The legislation is in response to a 2012 law that aims to shore up the debt-saddled flood insurance program by putting premiums in line with risk.
Some lawmakers say that that law has made insurance in flood zones, including those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, unaffordable to many homeowners.
Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm hails bipartisan passage of flood insurance bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Michael Grimm on Tuesday called the passage of his bill to repeal increases in flood insurance premiums “a major uplifting milestone in our city’s long road to recovery since Superstorm Sandy.”
The House on Tuesday passed Grimm’s Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act by a vote of 306-91.
2 Years Later, Congress Poised To Undo Flood Law
WASHINGTON (AP) — Less than two years after Congress approved a landmark bill to overhaul the federal flood insurance program, lawmakers are poised to undo many of the changes after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp increases in premiums.
The House overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday night that would allow sellers to give their subsidized, below-market insurance rates to new buyers and lower the cap on how much flood insurance premiums can rise each year.
House passes flood-insurance bill from Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm
By Tom Wrobleski/Staten Island Advance, read the original piece here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night passed a bill from Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) that repeals steep increases in flood-insurance premiums.
The bi-partisan roll call vote was 306-91.
“It’s almost surreal standing here right now,” Grimm said during the House debate on the bill prior to the vote. Continue Reading
Congressman Grimm Receives New York State Independence Party Endorsement
NEW YORK CITY, NY -
TODAY, Frank MacKay, Chairman of the New York State Independence Party announced the organization’s full endorsement of Congressman Michael G. Grimm for re-election in New York’s 11th congressional district:
“Congressman Grimm has proven himself to be a truly independent voice for his constituents in Staten Island and Brooklyn.” said Chairman MacKay. “In an era of partisan gridlock and political gamesmanship plaguing Congress, Rep. Grimm stands out among the rest as someone who has worked across party lines to get things done, and his conscientious voting record demonstrates this much-needed pragmatism.” Chairman MacKay continued. “Michael Grimm is not afraid to stand up to his own party and put people above politics when their best interest is at stake, and for that continued courage and independence, we fully support him for re-election.”