WASHINGTON — Congress Friday approved a five-year reauthorization of the nation's flood insurance program after removing a requirement that could have forced thousands of Arkansans to purchase policies.

WASHINGTON — Congress Friday approved a five-year reauthorization of the nation’s flood insurance program after removing a requirement that could have forced thousands of Arkansans to purchase policies.

Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., had opposed mandating the purchase of flood insurance for property behind functioning levees, dams or other flood control structures.

House and Senate leaders earlier in the week had planned to leave the provision in the bill but dropped it out to avoid further delays in reauthorizing the program, Pryor said.

“It was not easy but I worked it really hard here in the Senate with a lot of help,” he said. “Ultimately, the Senate and House leadership realized I was going to win this … so they just took out the offending section.”

Pryor and Boozman supported reauthorizing the program but opposed the new mandate arguing that flood insurance is not needed for properties protected by the Mississippi levee system, which withstood last year’s record flood.

“We have some of the best levees in the world that have never once been breached. It simply doesn’t make sense to ignore these taxpayer investments,” Pryor said.

Reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program was included in a larger bill that cleared the House, 373-52, and passed the Senate, 74-19. The bill provides a two-year authorization of federal road and bridge construction funding and kept college student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent for another year.

Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, was disappointed that Congressional leaders had merged the flood insurance reauthorization into the package.

“Flood insurance reform hasn’t even been considered by the full Senate. If it had, leadership might not have had to jettison a key reform requiring purchase of flood insurance in areas that, while behind a levee, still retain significant flood risk for property owners,” she said.

The struck provision, Alexander said, would have lowered rates for many policyholders and provided protection for taxpayers and millions of Americans in harm’s way.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.