As Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu prepares to seek re-election in 2014 against Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, the two federal lawmakers are competing not only for endorsements back home but also for bragging rights on efforts to postpone dramatically higher flood insurance rates across south Louisiana.
It's one of few issues on which Landrieu and Cassidy agree, so this is not an ideological fight. Rather, it's a contest to see who can take credit (if either ultimately can) for deferring the significantly higher flood insurance rates mandated by the Biggert-Waters Act, which Congress adopted in 2012. The act requires FEMA to change flood insurance rates to make them "reflect true flood risk [and] make the program more financially stable," according to a FEMA website.
Biggert-Waters was tacked onto a larger transportation bill last year — as was Landrieu's RESTORE Act, which directed 85 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP oil disaster to Gulf Coast states. Those amendments (and others) helped make the omnibus transportation bill palatable to both parties in Congress. In fact, the entire Louisiana delegation voted for the bill because of the RESTORE Act provisions, despite the adverse impact of Biggert-Waters.
Now every Louisiana congressman and both U.S. senators want to change Biggert-Waters to give voters back home some relief from higher flood insurance rates, which in some cases will increase more than $20,000 a year when the act takes
By all accounts, Landrieu has more seniority and clout, but Cassidy already has scored some points. The congressman persuaded the GOP-dominated House to adopt his amendment to a FEMA funding bill; the amendment delays the rate increases for one year.
In the Senate, both Landrieu and Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter (who is backing Cassidy against Landrieu) hope to delay the rate hikes for three years. Landrieu has tried to amend several Senate measures, but without success thus far. Last month, she introduced a stand-alone bill to postpone the increases and change other aspects of Biggert-Waters.
Last week, local officials got into the act. Thirteen area parish presidents — Democrats as well as Republicans — penned a letter to Landrieu and Vitter citing the "Cassidy Amendment" in the House and urging them "to include the amendment or a similar provision providing relief ... as the Senate begins to consider FY14 Homeland Security appropriations." Landrieu chairs the Senate subcommittee that deals with Homeland Security funding.
Noticeably absent from the list of signees at the bottom of the letter: Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the senior senator's younger brother. — Clancy DuBos