Lobbyists, budget analysts, members of Congress -- and reporters -- are now drilling through the details of $1.012 trillion spending plan House and Senate budget negotiators have reached to keep the federal government running.
There's a welcome measure for some Florida lawmakers: The bill includes a provision to delay some of the premium increases triggered by recent changes to the flood insurance program -- a move Florida lawmakers applauded, even if its affect is limited and short-lived.
The provision would halt increases for existing homeowners and help approximately 2 million Florida families through fiscal year 2014, said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, adding that the time should be used by Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to find a "permanent fix to ensure that our neighbors and small business owners do not suffer unconscionable increases."
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called it "only a partial solution" and that there was more work to be done.
But, he said, “Congress, it seems, is finally hearing the pleas of some of the homeowners."
In addition, Nelson said the legislation includes $20 billion to "bolster the fight" against citrus greening, a disease threatening Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.
“This isn’t everything we’ve been pushing for in the farm bill, but $20 million is a good step and will allow us to accelerate the research we've started," Nelson said. The $20 million is in addition to the $11 million Nelson helped secure two years ago to fund the research into combating and eradicating the citrus disease that’s infected crops in Florida, California, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina.
The New America Foundation hailed a push in the legislation to expand state and federal pre-kindergarten to more low- and moderate-income children. It said the bill would expand Head Start by $1 billion (nearly a 14 percent increase), provide funding for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, and utilize Race to the Top funds to grow state pre-K programs.
The bill would also create and fund President Obama’s proposed First in the World competition to offer colleges and universities grants to employ new strategies to lower students’ costs and improve outcomes, including a $20-million set-aside for minority-serving institutions. It would require the Department of Education to produce Pell Grant graduation rates for Congress based on the data it has rather than data as reported by institutions. The Office of Vocational and Adult Education would be renamed the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, and would provide $3 million for prisoner re-entry education, as well as promote adult literacy programs.
Federal budget experts at The Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank – panned the measure, saying it does not contain costs.
"This proposal essentially kicks the can down the road," said John Nothdurft, director of government relations. "Where is the leadership in Washington? Until long-term entitlements are reformed, taxpayers will be an economic hiccup away from being burdened with massively higher taxes.”
Nelson said it was unclear how many homeowners would be affected by the flood insurance fix. He, Castor and other lawmakers, including Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., have been pushing for a delay, during which time FEMA would study the affordability of flood insurance and re-evaluate the accuracy of new flood maps.
His office said the budget language would prevent the government from spending any money for the remainder of the fiscal year to enforce higher premiums on homeowners who would see rising rates with the new flood maps. Also, FEMA is given 60 days to provide Congress with a report on ways to keep rates more affordable.
Republican Reps. Vern Buchanan of Florida, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Jeb Hensarling of Texas in December attempted to address a fix in a standalone bill, but it ran aground without reaching the floor when key Democrats balked.