The Senate on Nov. 17 passed bare-bones legislation extending the federal backstop for terrorism risk insurance for 7 years–through 2014–but without any of the additional provisions contained in the House bill, such as including group life in the extension.
The decision sets up a confrontation with the House, with Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., issuing a statement “insisting” that provisions in the House bill be included in final legislation.
It is unclear when talks will begin to reconcile the two bills. Congress is in recess and won’t return until Dec. 3.
The current extension of the terrorism risk legislation expires Dec. 31, and when Congress returns, it will have a huge backlog of must-do legislation to work on.
In response to the Ackerman comments, the American Council of Life Insurers issued a statement agreeing with him, noting that he “is right when he says TRIA is incomplete without group life.
“Millions of workers rely on group life as the primary life insurance protection for their families,” said Jack Dolan, a spokesman for the ACLI. “Moreover, group life has the same risk characteristics as workers’ compensation.
“By including group life as a covered risk under TRIA, Congress will help assure that this vital employee benefit is not disrupted by an act of terrorism,” Dolan added.
In his comments on Senate passage, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, did not reiterate comments he made in October saying he would demand an extension of the current program until April 30 rather than accept the more-modest Senate bill.
“I am pleased the Senate passed TRIA,” Frank said. “We have a month now; we will be back for a couple of weeks in December and I think it is very important that we begin conversations about a compromise.”
He added, “I look forward to a formal conference, or otherwise, with the Senate, and I will consult very closely with the New York members of our committee who will have a major role in this.”
Ackerman, as he noted in his statement, is a “senior” member of the House Financial Services Committee, and principal author of several provisions of the House bill. In his comments, he “applauded” the Senate’s action. But, in his statement, he “insisted” that a final bill “contain the more expansive provisions in the House-passed version.”
Ackerman explained that “passage of TRIA’s extension by the Senate continues to keep the momentum swinging.”
Hopefully, he added, “this vote will bring us closer to passing of a final bill that provides a 15-year extension, the critical reset mechanism and vital group life, nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological coverage.”
The Senate bill was passed under expedited procedures as the body moved to begin its Thanksgiving recess.
The Senate bill resolves a critical budget hurdle and makes it far more likely the program will be extended before it expires.
The key to Senate passage was an agreement by the Congressional Budget Office earlier in the week to accept a proposal from the staff of the Senate Banking Committee that called for policyholders to pay back on an accelerated basis government expenditures made in case of an attack. After that, the CBO agreed to project the program would have a zero budget cost.
The House has not yet dealt with the cost of its bill. Under congressional rules re-established this year, any program that costs the government money must be offset with either added revenues or cuts in existing programs.
According to the CBO estimates, the House bill would cost the government $8.4 billion over 10 years. The House has yet to deal with the issue, which was brought up repeatedly by Republicans during acrimonious debate on the House floor.
In a note to members, officials of the Council of Agents and Brokers cautioned that “just as in 2002 and again in 2005, the Senate leaders of the Banking Committee have little to no ‘wiggle room’ with respect to their negotiated deal to go any further in expanding the scope or the reach of the legislation through concessions to the House.”
After the Senate vote under expedited procedures, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a fiscal hawk, said, “Hopefully, the House, if they want to get it done, will take what we do and pass it.”
Another card the Senate holds is that the Bush administration issued a statement as the bill was being reported out by the Senate Banking Committee in mid-October, saying it would “not oppose” the Senate bill, but would reconsider a veto if more provisions were added to it.
The bill passed by the Senate extends the program through 2014, but contains most of the provisions of the current legislation, the Terrorism Risk Extension Act of 2005.
In comments after the vote, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said he was ”very confident” the House and Senate could reach a compromise before Congress adjourns at the end of the year.