Feb. 2 is Groundhog Day, when Punxsutawney Phil gives his fans some insight into whether we will have 6 more weeks of winter by observing whether he sees his shadow.
Somewhat similarly, the recent flurry of letters in Washington, D.C. regarding the efficacy or downside of allowing insurers to have an optional federal charter would seemingly signal that what has become the annual debate over the issue in Washington is close at hand.
But, while the pipeline of insurance issues the new Obama administration will have to deal with over the next two years is bursting the seams, the likelihood of prompt action on issues specific to insurance seems less than the likelihood of delay.
That is because the Senate has tarried in confirming President Obama’s cabinet appointments, pushing down the road the appointment and confirmation of the lower level officials who will oversee the vast agenda generated by the worst economic and financial crisis in at least two decades.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was confirmed on Jan. 26, setting the stage for appointment of the aides who will advise him at Treasury.
His confirmation was delayed, rightly, by Republicans so that they could make sure everyone knew that their investigation had turned up the fact that he hadn’t paid taxes on earnings from a previous stint in Washington.
But it pushed back the promised prompt action on critical decisions needed to provide insight into how aggressively the new administration will deal with an economic crisis that is seemingly growing daily in intensity.
For life insurers, the all-important decision will be how the 5 insurers who have applied for aid under the Treasury’s Capital Purchase Program will be treated.
Approval of CPP money for at least some of the insurers who applied to participate in the program would signal that Treasury has decided to no longer deal at arm’s length with politically-sensitive insurance issues.
But it is unlikely to be made for at least several weeks while the new officials familiarize themselves with the applications, and decide which policies of the former administration they will embrace, or whether to adopt radical new policies, such as nationalization of severely troubled financial entities, for example.