The end game on legislation extending the federal backstop on terrorism insurance continued last week with the House passing legislation adding group life insurance and restrictions of use of travel underwriting to the program while at the same time acknowledging that the ultimate bill is virtually certain not to contain those provisions.
At the same time, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and chief sponsor of the more expansive House bill, said during floor debate on Dec. 12 that he is reserving the right to demand changes in the bill next year that would add the two provisions to the program.
Frank’s dilemma stems from the Senate insisting that its bare-bones, 7-year extension of the current program be the final product, Frank said during the floor debate.
But, with the program set to expire by Dec. 31, and Congress scheduled to finish its work by Dec. 21, at the latest, Frank admitted that he will likely be forced to accept the Senate bill.
“There is no chance of this [legislation] expiring,” Frank said. “Everybody knows that. We have preserved our ability at any point simply to accept [the Senate bill].
“The question is do we give up now or do we send them the message that the ability to travel to Israel, the concern for the small insurance companies being able to insure commercial properties, and the concern for group life and not just property, that those are important issues?
“We can take that vote today [to pass the Senate bill] and send that message,” Frank said.
“And if we have to, we will accommodate reality,” he added. “But we will have sent that message, and it gives us a basis upon which to act next year.
The American Council of Life Insurers, which has been the chief advocate for the group life provision, acknowledged the House’s efforts in its comments after the House vote.
An ACLI staff official recognized the role of Frank and Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., in making the industry’s case for group life.
“We applaud Chairman Frank, Rep. Ackerman and other members of the House and the Senate who have been stalwart in their support for including group life in TRIA,” said ACLI spokesman Steve Brostoff. “ACLI still believes the arguments for adding group life to TRIA are irrefutable.
“The ongoing threat of terrorism is a sad fact of life and terrorism risk is unpredictable both in terms of frequency and magnitude. Including group life in TRIA would help assure that this vital source of insurance protection–which is often the only type of life insurance that rank-and-file employees have–remains widely available after a catastrophic attack,” Brostoff said.
“We understand that this has been a difficult battle in the face of a veto threat from the administration,” he added.
The Senate bill effectively extends the current legislation by 7 years and adds claims from acts of domestic terrorism to the reinsurance program.
The latest House bill restores provisions from the original House version that were deleted from the Senate’s legislation. These include language adding group life, as well as a provision aimed at reducing the cost of terrorism risk insurance to properties in urban areas most likely to be hit by terrorists.
It also reduces the trigger from the current $100 million to $50 million.
During the debate, Rep. Frank acknowledged that neither Democrats nor Republicans in the Senate wanted a conference committee to iron out differences between the two versions.
Besides that, added pressure to take the Senate bill is coming from both the White House and House Republicans to accept the Senate bill.