DeLay Or Not DeLay

Shortly after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s first indictment, I found myself wondering whether it would have any effect on the fortunes of the insurance business.

I suspected that with DeLay at least temporarily DeFanged (or, since he’s known as “The Hammer,” perhaps I should say DeClawed), there could be some movement on issues that have been effectively stalled because of the powerful leader’s opposition. The issue that naturally came to mind was the extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which DeLay has made no bones about opposing, and which the industry desperately desires. The life insurance business has been lobbying hard for inclusion of group life insurance in any bill going forward.

It is hard to figure out why the Texas legislator is so opposed to even a slimmed down government backup role in an area that even many in his party would say warrants it. One reason that has been suggested is that, for him, TRIA is seen as a predominantly Blue State issue/problem. And DeLay has no intention of extending a helping hand to Blue Staters.

In any case, the question still swirled: Would DeLay’s legal woes help the business? Then, in an act that reconfirms once again how the universe comes to the aid of journalists, National Underwriter’s Washington Bureau Chief Dave Postal came into possession of a message written by Joel Wood, who is senior vice president for government affairs of the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, to CIAB members.

I admit I was surprised that Wood, one of the savviest lobbyists in the capital, would even ruminate on the subject of DeLay’s temporary stepping down as Majority Leader and what that might mean for the business. But he did.

DeLay’s indictment “by a Texas grand jury on a charge of criminal conspiracy has very significant consequences for The Council’s top legislative priority–enactment of legislation by the end of this year to protect commercial policyholders from the risks of terrorism,” Wood wrote.

DeLay, he continued, “was a major obstacle in passage of a two-year extension of TRIA last year. He has pledged to do his best to block any straightforward extension of TRIA this year unless the federal backstop program was significantly scaled back or significantly altered to make it appear to be more of a private sector solution to the problem of terrorism coverage.”

This seems like a relatively straightforward analysis of the situation, yet such is the fear of DeLay in Washington that no other lobbyist would comment on the message. One even told Dave Postal, “I won’t go anywhere near that.”

Wood’s message went on to say that DeLay’s “staff, however, has been working very constructively with the House Financial Services Committee to develop significant alternative proposals.”

But despite this, Wood cautioned that “it would be a mistake to assume that TRIA extension now has an easy ride.”

Time will tell, of course, whether DeLay’s indictment had any effect on the fate of TRIA or other legislation of interest to the insurance business.

Indeed, TRIA has been overshadowed by other events–namely two powerful ladies named Katrina and Rita–that may prove more damaging to its prospects than DeLay.

But still, I wouldn’t underestimate the power of the hammer, even when it’s not actively engaged in pounding in nails.

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief

I suspected that with DeLay at least temporarily DeFanged (or, since he’s known as “The Hammer,” perhaps I should say DeClawed), there could be some movement on issues that have been effectively stalled because of the powerful leader’s opposition.”