The decision in mid-February of Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., not to seek re-election is part of a disturbing trend, where experienced members of Congress are exiting Washington.
They are doing so because they are not comfortable with the end of the collegial atmosphere that facilitated bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.
That atmosphere has been replaced by ceaseless backbiting, a climate where insults, distortions and intrigue are the norm.
Johanns’ decision is a key loss to the insurance industry, along with that of Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
Johanns, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, had become an integral part of Congressional efforts to deal with issues critical to the insurance industry. Harkins’ loss is even greater. A senior member of Congress, Harkin is a powerful voice across committees and on the floor on insurance interests important to Iowa, where insurance is a key industry.
Chambliss was a member of the “Gang of Six,” which has been laboring for some time to develop a bipartisan approach to tax reform and deficit reduction.
Resolution of that issue is key for the insurance industry, and Chambliss’ decision to retire is a clear signal that he sees his multi-year effort to march across the aisle in search of a moderate course of action on deficit reduction have led nowhere.
Tom Friedman of the New York Times put it best Feb. 16 when he talked about Apple holding on to its cash hoard of $137 billion. He said that, “There is no doubt our economy is primarily being held back by the deleveraging and drop in demand that resulted from the 2008 financial crisis. But they are being reinforced today by uncertainty and worry that we do not have our political house in order and, therefore, our tax, regulatory, pension and entitlement frameworks are all in play.
“So businesses, investors and consumers all hold back just enough for us not to be able to move the growth and employment meters with any robust momentum,” Friedman observed.
For the insurance industry, there is a lot on the line.
The key to selling insurance products is certainty in tax policy. After a decade of effort, the fiscal cliff deal finally brought certainty to the estate tax policy, long considered the lynchpin to the sale of insurance products.