U.S. House leaders may have hurt efforts to add group life to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act by referring an extension bill to the Judiciary Committee.[@@]

The House Financial Services Committee voted 64-3 before Thanksgiving to approve H.R. 4314, a TRIA extension bill that includes group life, and supporters had hoped that the bill would go to the House floor early next week.

The current version of TRIA, which excludes group life, is set to expire Dec. 31. Time for extending the program is short because Congress wants to end its current session Dec.17.

When the Judiciary Committee considers H.R. 4314, it could add provisions backed by the White House and opposed by some Senate Democrats that would limit the ability of terrorism victims to collect lawsuit damages from the TRIA program.

Earlier, an insurance industry lobbyist who requested anonymity called the tort reform provisions a “proxy for those who want TRIA to expire.”

“Tort reform will never be accepted by the Senate,” the lobbyist said. “As much as everyone in the industry supports tort reform, it is more important that we get this bill completed.”

Meanwhile, the White House is backing a simpler Senate TRIA bill that excludes group life.

“The legislative time constraints and the referral of the House bill to the Judiciary Committee may strengthen the prospects for the more streamlined Senate bill supported by the White House,” according to a bulletin written by David Winston, a senior vice president at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Indianapolis.

A “talking points” memo distributed by Treasury officials at a Nov. 30 retreat for House Republican leaders says the “current House TRIA extension bill contains fundamental flaws.”

The House bill “adds significant lines and exposure,” and “presents gaming opportunities for multi-line providers,” according to the memo.

“The House proposal expands the program by creating several ‘mini-TRIAs’ == a Workers’ Compensation TRIA, a Property TRIA, a Casualty TRIA, a new Group Life TRIA, and a new NBCR [nuclear, biological, chemical, radioactive] TRIA,” the memo says.

Insurance industry officials declined to comment for the record on the referral of the House TRIA bill to the Judiciary Committee, but one lobbyist who requested anonymity described the move as a “White House assault” on the House TRIA extension bill.

“It appears that earlier assurances by Treasury that they would not interfere with the House process have been abrogated,” the lobbyist said.

Earlier, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, was given “iron-clad assurances that his legislation would be considered on the House floor [this] week,” the lobbyist said.