Missing You

Congress, come back. All is forgiven.

Well, actually, not quite. But this time of the year, when Congress takes off for its Thanksgiving recess, is always a hard time for political junkies, and that includes yours truly.

The same holds true, obviously, for the Christmas recess, the August recess and some of the other recesses, as well. Come to think of it, isn’t it amazing that anything ever gets done on the Hill, what with all the recesses our legislators take? It makes you wonder whether it’s necessary to have a recessive gene in order to become a member of Congress.

But getting back to the present, this year’s Thanksgiving recess has been particularly difficult for those of us addicted to the machinations, posturing and blowzy oratory that go with the process of 535 elected officials cobbling our laws together. Why so?

Well, for one thing, this time Congress left town with many issues hanging over the edge of a cliff. Several of these issues are of acute interest to life and health insurers.

There’s the extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, fast approaching its year-end deadline, and whether this second incarnation of TRIA will include group life insurance.

The White House seems to have developed an especial antipathy to including group life and unless one concludes that it doesn’t value people very much, it’s hard to figure out why.

Opponents of TRIA keep referring to it as a government handout. But the fact is that while the law has been in effect, not a penny has been handed out. Of course, that doesn’t ensure that the government won’t be on the hook in the event of a future terrorist attack. But both the House and Senate bills raise the level of industry retentions for lines that have been covered in the first TRIA bill, and the House bill sets the retention level for group life at 21.5% in the first year of the new law and at 24% in the second year.

Since, in the view of some observers, the government would have to step in anyway with help for group life companies and their policyholders in the event of a catastrophic attack, why is the White House being so mingy about it?

Then there’s also pending legislation that concerns pension reform, provisions for COLI, and long term care partnerships, among others. These are all substantive reasons for wanting Congress to get back soon and get to work.

But I have to confess there is also another reason. In a word, entertainment; or, politics as soap opera.

This Congress has seen one scandal after another (and at the highest levels), and while the events underlying the scandals are reprehensible in themselves, what is entertaining is seeing the politicians wriggle and writhe and bluster as they confront their misdeeds being made public.

During a recess, one expects a lull in the steady stream of allegations and indictments. And that indeed has happened.

But then something totally unexpected happened during the interregnum. Randy Cunningham happened.

The California representative’s fraud was on a scale to take one’s breath away. Bribes taken to the tune of at least $2.4 million–and not just money, but a Rolls-Royce and antiques, furniture and rugs.

Massive fraud, but tasteful, so to speak.

It whets your appetite for what else is in store. I can hardly wait.