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Any post-election period is a fascinating time for those of us devoted to following politics. But this is especially so when you have a “new broom sweeps clean” election and the former majority and minority parties switch places.

The buzz builds inexorably. It’s like watching a game of musical chairs. Who’s going to end up where? And what will their priorities be when they get there?

Actually, a lot of these moves seem pre-ordained, particularly in the Senate, which still honors tradition and seniority. So, it is fairly safe to say that the ranking Democrat on a particular committee in the 109th Congress–say, Chris Dodd on the Senate Banking Committee–will be chairman in the 110th Congress.

The House can be a little dicier in this regard. One interesting thing here has been the dustup over which House committee, and thereby its chairman, will have jurisdiction over insurance. Right now, it is the Financial Services Committee, which is due to be chaired by Rep. Barney Frank. But industry arch-nemesis John Dingell, who is the presumptive chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is by some accounts itching to get the industry under his committee’s jurisdiction.

I’ll give you one guess who the industry is rooting for in this skirmish.

On the Republican side of the aisle, it came as a big surprise that Sen. Trent Lott was elected to the #2 position in the Republican leadership as Senate whip. It is truly a stunning comeback for a man who had to give up his position as Majority Leader four years ago due to remarks he made at a birthday party for Sen. Strom Thurmond that set off a media storm.

The industry can’t be too thrilled with this development because Lott has been mightily ticked off at it since his house in Mississippi was demolished by Hurricane Katrina and the insurer he was with denied at least part of the claim, saying the damage was due to flooding, not wind. Lott has said he’s going to introduce legislation to repeal the antitrust exemption in the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

It may all turn to be a tempest in a teapot (or, more appropriately, a hurricane in a hibachi) but at the very least, the industry doesn’t need the distraction.

Besides the people factor, the interesting thing in post-election switcheroos is which issues are going to come to the fore and which are going to fade into that place where forgotten crusades finally go to rest.

So, bye-bye, estate tax repeal. And bye-bye, Lifetime Savings Accounts. And bye-bye (not to mention good riddance), privatized accounts in Social Security.

Hello to filling the “donut hole” in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. Hello to including group life in any extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. Hello to tax relief for the middle class.

What will be interesting here is whether the Democrats will be able to hold to their stated policy of “pay as you go.” It’s funny how this sense of discipline used to be the GOP schtick until the party discovered the delights (and dangers) of an all-pork diet.

For a while it will be like living in that Seinfield episode where Elaine gets involved with Bizarro Jerry’s world and friends and everything is weirdly inside out.

The likelihood of anything really earthshaking coming out of Congress in the next two years is not very great, even with the switch in control to the Democrats.

Instead of ‘fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride,’ it’s more likely to be like being on the Garden State Parkway at 5 p.m.–moving very slowly and not knowing what’s happening three cars ahead.

Steve Piontek



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