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Fate Uncertain for House Flood Insurance Bill (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated: Feb. 25, 7:56 p.m. |  The House is poised to vote this week on legislation to ease the burden on homeowners seeking affordable flood insurance, but the bill might not have the votes — on either side of the aisle.  

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced last week that he would bring the bill up under suspension, an expedited floor procedure in which passage hinges on getting a two-thirds majority of those members present to vote "yes."  

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said on Tuesday afternoon that Democratic support for the GOP proposal was nebulous, at best.  

"I presume if you put something on the suspension calendar, you want to it done quickly," he told reporters at his weekly briefing. "But you gotta get more votes, and right now, although I have not spoken to [Finance Services ranking member] Maxine Waters, I understand that she does not believe this bill does the job that we need done."  

Waters, a California Democrat, was a champion in 2012 of bipartisan legislation with then-Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., dubbed the "Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act," which reduced subsidies for homeowners to shore up the cash-strapped National Flood Insurance Program.  

With flood insurance premiums now skyrocketing, however, lawmakers — particularly in flood-prone states and districts — are clamoring to revisit that law. The Senate last month passed legislation that would effectively halt implementation of Biggert-Waters for four years.  

Hoyer said Tuesday that he and other Democratic leaders had not made a determination yet about whether they would whip their members for or against the House Republicans' proposed bill.  

"I've just asked this morning, 'What does the bill do that they're presenting?' and I haven't read the memo yet," Hoyer conceded.  

Rep. Michael G. Grimm, R-N.Y., a lead negotiator in paving the way for the GOP leadership-approved flood insurance bill to come to the floor, dismissed vote count anxieties on Tuesday evening.  

"Literally, as we speak, minor edits are being made to the bill so that we can make this a truly bipartisan bill," Grimm told CQ Roll Call. "I personally think, when this comes to the floor on Thursday, people are going to be surprised that there's going to be overwhelming support."  

In a letter sent to colleagues last week, Cantor said there were a number of House Republicans who had been instrumental in drafting the flood insurance bill slated for debate: Grimm, Bill Cassidy and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Steven M. Palazzo of Mississippi, Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey and Floridians Rich Nugent, Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Vern Buchanan and Dennis A. Ross.  

"The Senate bill unfortunately removes much needed reforms and imposes additional costs on taxpayers and is a non-starter in this body," Cantor wrote.  

But Grimm said that House Democrats were at the table, too -- including Waters.  

"I had been working with Maxine Waters from the very beginning," Grimm said. "She's been giving us edits over the last couple of days.  

"And Gregory Meeks," said Grimm of the New York Democrat, "he said to me, a month ago, 'if this isn't retroactive, I can't be part of it.' And I'm like, 'Greg, let's work on it right now and make it retroactive,' so there's an example of, the retroactivity of this bill was myself, Cassidy and Gregory Meeks and [Louisiana Democrat] Cedric Richmond."  

Meanwhile, more conservative lawmakers without ties to districts vulnerable to flooding could be put off by the legislation. The Club for Growth, fresh from releasing its 2013 legislative scorecard on Monday, announced on Tuesday morning that it would also "score" the flood insurance vote.  

"Congress should end the NFIP and return the flood insurance industry back to the private sector," the group said in a statement, calling the program, "hostile to liberty and limited government."  

Ben Weyl contributed to this report.