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House lawmakers urge Senate to back its flood insurance bill

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers who represent districts from the Gulf Coast north to New Jersey and New York pleaded with the Senate on Thursday to protect coastal homeowners from a spike in flood insurance rates.

Under a bipartisan bill that the House of Representatives passed this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be required to continue subsidizing insurance coverage for flood-risk homes after they’re sold. Homeowners also would be eligible to avoid being remapped into high-risk flood zones. Both provisions are expected to delay increases in flood insurance premiums.

The bill now faces a vote in the Senate, which passed its own flood insurance measure in January. House lawmakers are urging their colleagues across the Capitol to agree to their version.

“The Senate has a great opportunity to pass a very balanced, very sensible bill that provides much-needed reforms and does it in a very compassionate way,” Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., said during a news conference attended by eight members of Congress who represent several coastal communities.

Passed on Tuesday by a top-heavy vote of 306-91, the House bill’s bipartisan support stood out as something of a rarity lately. During the news conference Thursday _ where the range of accents reflected the measure’s geographic reach _ one Democrat even lauded the efforts of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

“Leader Cantor went out of his way to negotiate with Democrats to make this happen,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. “That’s why the process worked and you had this completely bipartisan bill.”

The legislation faces criticism from conservative and libertarian groups, who think the subsidies distort the housing market. The federally operated flood insurance program is operating under $24 billion in debt. During debate this week on the House floor, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, characterized the flood insurance program as “one reason America is going broke.”

No date has been set for a Senate vote, but the legislation already has been publicly endorsed by some members.

“We are not yet at the finish line,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a news release. “The Senate will carefully review the details of the House bill and will move the process forward.”