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The U.S. Senate passed a $36.5 billion disaster relief bill that would forgive $16 billion in debt owed by the National Flood Insurance Program by an 82-17 vote on Tuesday, paving the way for President Donald Trump to sign the bill.
Sixty votes were needed to waive budget rules and allow the Senate to approve the bill, with 80 senators voting in favor of the motion while 19 opposed it. The motion was initiated by Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who delivered a lengthy objection on the Senate floor to adopting the disaster aid bill and exceeding spending caps without offsetting the spending with cuts for less urgent initiatives.
“There’s also $16 billion in here for the flood program that continues to pay people to build in flood zones,” he said. “Year after year after year, we continue to rebuild in flood zones and then taxpayers are left on the hook.”
The U.S. House of Representatives previously passed the disaster relief bill by a 353-69 vote. It now goes to the president, who has advocated in favor of its passage as hurricanes Harvey and Irma have inflicted projected losses of $16 billion on top of the existing $24.6 billion in program debt prior to the recent storms and with the NFIP expected to fully exhaust its financial resources, including its $30.4 billion in borrowing authority, this month.
The failure of an effort to ensure private flood insurance coverage will be deemed comparable to government-provided insurance highlights the ongoing difficulty of reforming the National Flood Insurance Program despite its mounting debt and bipartisan recognition of the need for reform.