A change in control of Congress could help the life insurance industry achieve some of its legislative goals.
Industry officials gave that optimistic assessment during discussions of Tuesday’s general election results.
It now appears that Democrats will have about 235 seats in the House and the Republicans will have about 200.
Over in the Senate, if Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut follows through with promises that he would caucus with the Democrats, it appears that the Democrats and allies will have 51 seats and the Republicans will have 49.
One immediate effect of a shift to Democratic control will be a shift in control of key congressional committees.
One common assumption is that the most senior minority party member serving on a committee is the leading candidate to become the committee chairman once party control shifts.
In the House, the heir presumptives for chairman titles of interest to the insurance industry are:
- Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., House Financial Services Committee.
- Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., House Ways and Means Committee.
- Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., Ways and Means Committee health subcommittee.
- Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., the House Financial Services Committee’s Capital Markets, Insurance and Government-Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee.
In the Senate, good bets for chairman titles include:
- Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., Senate Banking Committee.
- Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Senate Finance Committee.
- Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Dodd prides himself on his support for the insurance industry.
Baucus has been working closely with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the current Senate Finance Committee chairman. He has been more supportive of the idea of reforming the estate tax rather than repealing it.
In the House, the most missed faces will include Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., a strong supporter of the insurance industry who was serving her 11th term in Congress; Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, a former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee; and Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee oversight subcommittee. Kelly has been a strong supporter of the insurance industry on terrorism risk insurance issues and other issues.
Here is a rundown on how the personnel changes could affect insurance legislation:
- Estate tax: House Democratic leaders have told the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting, Falls Church, Va., that they want to return to the old “pay as you go” rules for offsetting any new tax cuts or extensions of existing tax cuts with cuts in spending.
The shift back to a pay-go system could help the life industry fend off estate tax repeal efforts, AALU President Dermot Healey says in a note to members.
- Taxation of inside buildup: The Democrats are unlikely to tax annuities or the inside buildup in life insurance policies, according to Frank Keating, president of the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington.
“I have not heard that the Democrats seek to tax insurance products,” Keating said during a teleconference. “It would further weaken the ability to deal the crisis confronting retirement security, and weaken the incentive for people to save for their future. It would be counterproductive.”
- Tax Reform Commission Proposals: The Bush administration created an advisory commission that has proposed eliminating most tax incentives associated with insurance and current retirement savings programs and replacing those tax incentives with a lifetime savings account program.
The lifetime savings account proposal and other Tax Reform Commission proposals, including the insurance incentive proposals, appear to be dead, Keating said.
“The commission had some interesting ideas, but some were political non-starters,” Keating said. “The types of policies proposed under the commission would not sit well with the populist Congress coming to power.”
- Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans: A Congress led by Democrats may be more likely to try to narrow or eliminate the “doughnut hole,” or gap in coverage that affects insureds who use up routine benefits but have not yet paid enough for prescriptions to qualify for catastrophic coverage, according to analysts at Washington Analysis.
- Health savings accounts: Democrats are unlikely to improve HSA incentives but also seem to be unlikely to eliminate the HSA program, analysts say.