NU Online News Service, May 15, 3:15 p.m. EDT

Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., plans to introduce a bill in the House that would extend the National Flood Insurance Program for one month, pushing the program’s expiration date back to June 30.

The bill does not have a number yet.

Mike Becker, assistant vice president, federal affairs for the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, says the one-month extension could allow for additional time for the Senate to act on a longer-term extension.

Separate industry sources also say the bill is aimed at buying more time for Senate action on a long-term extension. One source adds that the House, which has already passed a five-year NFIP extension with reforms, is trying to pressure the Senate to do the same.

The source notes that the Senate is getting pressure from elsewhere as well. The insurance industry joined other industries in an effort called “Flood the Hill” designed to get an NFIP extension done, and Senators David Vitter, R-La., and Jon Tester, D-Mont. held a hearing last week to discuss the program.

Biggert’s one-month extension would be one of several NFIP-extension plans proposed. The industry has expressed the most support for a five-year extension with reforms, although the industry source says the top priority is avoiding a lapse in the program.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has proposed a two-year extension that would give Congress time to flesh out meaningful reforms. However, Matt Gannon, assistant vice president of federal affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, says that plan is not in play, as the House is seeking to “keep the Senate’s feet to the fire,” and so is unwilling to do a mid-term extension that would push the issue into the background. For the same reason, Gannon says a Vitter proposal that would extend the current program to December is also off the table for the Senate.

Aside from a one-month extension, Biggert’s bill would incorporate some aspects of the House’s longer-term extension bill. For example, the bill would require FEMA and the Government Accountability Office to conduct separate studies to “assess a broad range of options, methods and strategies for privatizing the national flood insurance program.”

A separate requirement calls on FEMA to “assess the capacity of the private reinsurance, capital, and financial markets by seeking proposals to assume a portion of the program’s insurance risk.”

Gannon says this is part of the House’s strategy. He explains that the House is only willing to do temporary extensions on a short-term basis, and only if they include incremental reforms. Biggert’s bill does both.

The Senate leadership, however, is not in favor of such a process, Gannon notes. He says the House will likely pass Biggert’s bill, but the Senate may look for just a clean 30-day extension without the reforms.

Or, Gannon says, the Senate could vote on its five-year extension bill, prompting the House to pass a clean 30-day extension while the House and Senate reconcile their long-term extensions.

Gannon says a long-term extension is close. He says in the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats have signaled support for a long-term extension with reforms. “That’s the frustration,” he says, regarding the reality that an extension has not happened yet. “There are people on both sides of the aisle…that support a reform bill.”

Regarding Biggert’s expected bill, Becker says, “PIA shares Rep. Biggert’s frustrations. We are so close to getting what is really needed, a five-year reauthorization with reforms.”

He adds that Vitter, who “is a strong supporter of a five-year reauthorization,” has filed one-month and two-month extension bills as part of the same effort to allow the Senate more time to act on a longer extension.

“While a one- or two-month extension will also keep the issue in front of Congress, PIA’s main objective remains seeing a long term bill enacted,” Becker says.

Ben McKay, senior vice president of federal government relations for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, says he is glad the House is moving to prevent a lapse on May 31. But he adds, “However, this patch does not alleviate the need for Congress to refocus on passing a long-term reauthorization and reform bill as soon as possible.

“We applaud Senators Tester and Vitter for convening a hearing last week in the Senate to underscore the urgency of a long-term solution for the flood program,” adds McKay. “Now, we urge the Senate to make the NFIP reauthorization and reform bill a top priority when they return after Memorial Day and we enter into hurricane season.”

Gannon says the insurance and real estate industries will be making the case over the near term about what a lapse would mean for the already struggling real estate market.