Around Washington for May 13, 2013

This week is expected to represent a big week for south Louisiana in the Senate, with votes anticipated on fixes and funding to the National Flood Insurance Program and to waterway infrastructure and flood protection.

Up for consideration is the proposed Water Resources Development Act by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that intends to expedite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers processes, set aside more dollars for river dredging, and speed up flood protection projects like south Louisiana’s Morganza to the Gulf plan.

Also expected to receive a vote is a proposed amendment to the bill by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., that would stall for a year federal flood insurance rate increases facing many thousands of residents in Louisiana and nationwide.

The amendment is co-sponsored by Vitter and also by other senators from coastal areas such as New York and New Jersey, whose constituents are recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

Landrieu called for the temporary delay in order to create time to craft a more permanent solution.

The fear is that proposed flood maps will cost Louisiana residents and business owners a lot more in the congressional effort to make the flood insurance program more self-sustainable.

The National Flood Insurance Program allows homeowners and businesses in flood zones that have trouble getting private insurance to obtain policies backed by the federal government. Nearly 500,000 people in Louisiana participate in the NFIP. The program has been in financial distress with a loss of $18 billion, largely due to payments made after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Landrieu said the potential impacts are about much more than ensuring people are paying their fair share of insurance on their “vacation homes.” Louisiana has plenty of coastal residents who work as fishermen, boat captains, oil-and-gas employees and many other workjerss who could be priced out of their homes.

Democrats to target Fleming

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is making clear it plans to target Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, when he is next up for re-election in 2014.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put out a press release last week on the “Working Families Flexibility Act,” which passed the U.S. House on a partisan vote. The campaign committee called the bill the “Pay Working Families Less Act.”

All five Republican members of the Louisiana congressional delegation voted for the bill, but the campaign committee criticized only Fleming. The committee listed Fleming as a vulnerable target last year, but the Democrats ended up failing to find a candidate to oppose him.

The bill would loosen federal overtime compensation laws to allow for more compensatory time.

Republicans contend the bill will give workers more flexibility to accept extra vacation time to spend with their families in exchange for overtime worked.

Democrats argued the bill weakens the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and will result in workers being paid less and not getting their earned overtime pay.

“The people of Louisiana work hard to support their families, but Congressman Fleming ignored them by supporting this trap of a bill that would chip away at workers’ wages and only lead to many Americans working more hours for less pay,” spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in a prepared statement.

Vitter targets phone subsidies

Vitter and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., on Thursday filed legislation to end the GOP-maligned subsidies for low-income families to receive mobile phone services.

Without taking aim at President Barack Obama, Vitter criticized the Lifeline Program that was expanded under President George W. Bush to include cell phone services.

“This phone program has expanded far beyond its original intent, and as so many middle-class Americans struggle underneath this economy, it is really offensive for Washington to make taxpayers pay for free cell phones for others,” Vitter stated.

The Federal Communications Commission Lifeline program, created nearly 30 years ago, that provides discounted phone service to people living in poverty. It was expanded in 2008 under Bush to include cell phones and the program’s spending has increased substantially since.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.