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Blessed Respite

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Congress is back in session after its August recess, but it doesn’t seem like there will be much on the agenda that affects the life insurance business.

Actually, that’s good news. Sometimes being below the radar is the best place of all to be.

This is especially so for an industry when a major piece of legislation has passed which had many provisions that it keenly desired. This can aptly describe the Pension Protection Act of 2006, legislation for which the industry fought long and hard.

Since Congress often finds a means to taketh away with one hand what it giveth with the other, there is a certain amount of breath-holding going on in various precincts of the business because the industry got so much of what it wanted in the PPA.

Of course, the industry will still have to contend with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist lobbing his little estate tax reform grenades at every possible opportunity. If only the man’s stick-to-itiveness were used on behalf of something that was truly deserving of legislative approval, Frist would be a world-beater. As it is, he’s hardly managed to concoct a meringue, for all his trying.

But even here, this is not solely the industry’s problem.

The other thing that will probably keep trouble from the industry’s door in the rest of this session is that the session itself will be drastically abbreviated. The likelihood is that Congress will meet only until the end of September, when the members will rush out to the hustings to prove to the voters why they should be returned to that great domed structure at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I guess it is possible to speak about an abbreviated session of Congress without any irony, but I think you would have to be totally lacking in that most Greek of perspectives in order to do so.

Huff and puff as they may, our legislators are managing to do less and less in the fewer days they actually meet. Come to think of it, this may not have anything to do with irony. It could just be simple math.

Nonetheless, every once in a while something useful, not to say beneficial, comes out of the House and Senate, which for a short while seems to validate the whole sloppy process.

Thus in the pension reform act that was passed, the industry finally saw best practices for corporate-owned life insurance written into law. This could have and should have and would have been done long before, except that the industry had to start all over after the Wall Street Journal served up platters of red herrings with its “expos?” articles on “janitors’ insurance.”

Never mind that the industry hadn’t sold this kind of policy in years, the brouhaha that resulted from the WSJ articles got Congressmen twitching so violently that it looked as if they were the recipients of not-too-carefully applied electric shocks.

The investment advice provision in the pension act was another case where the industry had to keep fighting off volleys of slander and misconceptions.

Considering how long the struggles over both of these issues took and how exhausting they were, it’s no wonder the industry is relieved at not getting too much, if any, of Congress’ attention in the next few weeks.

However, if it’s going to be ready for 2007, the industry had better start eating its Wheaties now.

Steve Piontek



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