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Little Action For Industry As Congress Returns For Short Session

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Fending off another effort by Senate Republicans to push through an estate tax reform bill will be the focus of the life insurance industry when Congress returns to work Sept. 5, after a month-long recess.

The industry will be aided in its effort to defeat passage of estate tax reform by the fact that Congress is expected to remain in session only until Sept. 29.

Congressional leadership is planning such a short session–with only 10 to 12 legislative days scheduled–because members want to race home to persuade the voters to send them back for another term.

Other industry issues likely to be taken up by Congress during that period are another hearing on insurance regulatory issues by the Senate Banking Committee, and House floor action on legislation that simplifies state oversight of multi-state surplus lines and reinsurance.

“We understand the Senate Banking Committee is considering another hearing on the optional federal charter issue in the fall,” said Jack Dolan, a spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurers. He said a decision on a hearing could be announced as early as this week.

There is also a strong possibility that Congress will return in mid-November for a lame duck session aimed at completing work on appropriations bills and other must-do legislation that couldn’t be completed before the Sept. 29 recess date.

The industry’s agenda is modest for the September session because Congress acted on the life insurance industry’s priority–passage of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which amends parts of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act–before it departed for a month-long recess Aug. 5.

Estate tax reform legislation, however, remains a big concern. Dermot Healey, president of the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting, said the trade group believes the estate tax issue could come up again “sometime before Congress adjourns for the November elections.”

Healey noted that “AALU continues to advocate in favor of fair, fiscally responsible, and permanent estate tax reform,” but that all of the “so-called reform proposals” that have been considered in the House and Senate thus far this year would cost nearly 80% of the cost of full repeal.

“We are concerned with the long-term sustainability of such policy,” Healey said.

There has been speculation that Senate Republicans would put Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in charge of devising a new bill aimed at winning the support of enough Democrats in the Senate to secure passage of an estate tax reform package.

But on Aug. 30, a spokesman for Grassley damped such speculation. “There is nothing new on the estate tax from our perspective,” said Jill Gerber, Grassley’s spokesperson.

Sen. William Frist, R-Tenn., Senate majority leader and an aggressive supporter of an estate tax relief package, vowed Aug. 4 to continue trying to pass such legislation, even though three efforts to get such a bill through the Senate this year have failed.


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