Flood Insurance Extension Highlights How Congress Acts Quickly

Yesterday, the Senate passed legislation, the National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act (S. 1182), reauthorizing the nation’s flood insurance program through November 30. The Senate cleared the short-term extension because Congress could not reach agreement on a long-term reauthorization before the program was scheduled to expire. The House passed the measure last week. It must now be presented to the president to be signed into law.

While such last-minute action by Congress has become routine in recent years, yesterday’s maneuvering highlights one of the procedures that the House and Senate use when they need to act quickly.

S. 1182 did not begin its life in the 115th Congress as the National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act. When it was first introduced in the Senate by Todd Young, R-Ind., on May 18, 2017, the measure was known instead as the American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act. The Senate first passed S. 1182 in that form on August 3, 2017. The bill was then sent to the House for further consideration.

The House passed S. 1182 on July 25, 2018. But before doing so, it replaced the bill’s original text requiring the Secretary of the Treasury to mint commemorative coins in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the American Legion with new text that extended the flood insurance program until November 30. The House then sent S. 1182 (as amended) back to the Senate for further consideration.

When S. 1182 arrived back in the chamber of its birth, it was no longer the commemorative coin act that first set out on its journey in the Senate over a year before. It was now considered must-pass legislation. Its metamorphosis was triggered by the Congress’s need to act quickly to ensure that the flood insurance program did not expire. Put differently, the House could have extended the program without using S. 1182 as a legislative vehicle. But it instead decided to attach the extension to S. 1182 because it had already cleared the Senate. 

The House’s decision to use a Senate-passed bill as the legislative vehicle to keep the national flood insurance program afloat made it more likely that the extension would clear Congress in time. This is because S. 1182 was considered a privileged measure once it returned to the Senate (as amended). Consequently, senators could not filibuster a motion to proceed to its consideration. And only one cloture motion would be needed to end debate before the Senate could vote to pass S. 1182 (assuming senators objected to scheduling a vote on it by unanimous consent or otherwise filibustered it).

As soon as S. 1182 arrived back in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., moved to concur (i.e. agree) in the House amendment to the measure and immediately filed cloture on the bill. He then filled the amendment tree to block senators from making any further changes to it. McConnell did so because the House was leaving town for the August recess and would thus be unable to easily clear the must-pass extension if the Senate made any additional changes to it. 

You can read how McConnell did this in the Congressional Record (pp. 5411-5412). 

And more detailed information about the procedures underlying this maneuver can be found in this excellent report by Congressional-Research-Service-rules-guru Elizabeth Rybicki. Rybicki is the nation’s leading expert on resolving legislative differences in Congress.