Renewed efforts by conservative Republicans in the Senate to impose tort reform standards in any extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act are complicating efforts to draft an extension to the legislation, which expires Dec. 31.
At the same time, the outlook for adding group life insurance to the present bill is a mixed bag. “It looks difficult for group life in the Senate because the White House is involved in the Senate talks and doesn’t want group life included,” one lobbyist said. “My prediction is that it doesn’t get into the Senate bill.”
In the House, it is a different story. The lobbyist said that “the group life people have made a persuasive case in the House. It is almost certain to get into the House bill.”
Re-emergence of the tort reform issue concerns all sides. The issue went down to the wire in November 2002 before a bill was finally agreed to, with most of the late delay caused by Republican insistence on some language curbing the ability of plaintiff’s lawyers to sue for punitive damages in cases arising out of a terrorism attack.
On the other hand, strong tort language is a bill-killer for Democrats in Congress.
Presently, vastly different bills are being negotiated on a bipartisan basis in the Senate Banking Committee and by the Republican leadership in the House Financial Services Committee. According to several industry lobbyists, the White House is participating in the Senate talks but not in the House.
There is some thought that members of the Senate Banking Committee will be presented a “take it or leave it” bill by the negotiators, with the bill going directly to the Senate floor, lobbyists said.
White House involvement in the Senate talks is complicating efforts to coordinate with the House because the White House is insisting that the restrictive principles for extension articulated in the June Treasury Department report on the issue be adhered to, according to lobbyists familiar with the substance of the talks.
The only saving grace is that the time to negotiate a bill has been extended. “Any movement in the House toward introduction of a proposal will now probably be this week,” one lobbyist said. And, while some staffers worked on a bipartisan basis last weekend in the Senate, the talks have slowed. “The Senate talks are still grinding,” one lobbyist said late last week.
“With the certain reality that Congress will be in a minimum of two weeks in December, things are now a little less frantic at the moment,” the lobbyist said.
Negotiations in the Senate involve representatives of Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the panel, and Sens. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., authors of a bill calling for a simple two-year extension of the legislation.