Democratic Congress Not Necessarily Bad for Industry, Says PIA

November 9, 2006

The new Congress will alter the insurance agenda on Capitol Hill, but losses for the industry are not a foregone conclusion. That’s the after-the-election take by the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA).

“The more things change, the more they may remain pretty much the same,” said PIA Executive Vice President and CEO Len Brevik. “While at first blush, some might be tempted to conclude that Democrats controlling the House and possibly the Senate will be a negative for the insurance industry and for independent insurance agents, that may not be entirely the case.”

Brevik noted that in the run-up to Tuesday’s balloting, although some House Democrats called for the repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson limited antitrust exemption for insurance, the party’s leadership in the House did not endorse the call. The incoming House leadership also did not embrace a call for an optional federal charter.

“When you look at many of the newly-elected Democrats, some are more moderate,” Brevik said. “Some who are in line for leadership positions are well-attuned to the importance of the insurance industry to the American economy, such as Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (D-Pa.), the most senior Democrat on the House subcommittee overseeing the insurance industry. Rep. Kanjorski has a keen appreciation of the key role played by Main Street insurance agents in assuring continued prosperity. And in contrast to campaign rhetoric, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is in line to be chairman of the Financial Services Committee, has had a good working relationship with outgoing Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio).”

So the industry has reason for optimism.

“In short, it is not a foregone conclusion that the insurance industry will necessarily fare less well in the new Congress,” Brevik said.

“There will still be many Republicans in both the House and Senate along with President Bush’s veto pen to keep any excesses in check. And as far as the Democrats are concerned, we are optimistic that cooler heads will prevail on key insurance issues.”

The 2006 election has moved Congress to the center, according to PIA National Senior Vice President Patricia A. Borowski.

“This election has brought in more moderates on both sides of the aisle,” Borowski said. “That tends to permit a more balanced consideration of our issues. Historically, insurance has fared better during times of centrist, results-oriented leadership. Since it is our job to achieve positive results for our members, we need to work effectively with both sides to achieve results favorable for our issues.”

The change in Congress may move some insurance issues onto the front burner and relegate others to the bottom of the political agenda. Here’s a quick take from PIA on how priorities and prospects may change in the new Congress:

TRIA – Chances improve for a bipartisan effort to craft a long-term terrorism insurance solution. Moderate Republicans may be strengthened by Dems, especially ones from the Northeast. Opposition lessens.

Tort Reform – Democrats and tort reform go together like oil and water. Don’t hold your breath.

Flood Insurance Reform – This issue will continue to plod along no matter who controls Congress. Are those flood maps done yet?

Repeal of McCarran-Ferguson – Some Dems may push for it, but it’s not yet clear whether they will get any traction.

SMART – Insurance reform package featuring “federal tools” less likely to be viewed favorably.

Optional Federal Charter – The bad idea that just won’t die will linger. Some Dems will push it, but cooler heads like Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) will prevail.

Business Taxes – Tax relief will be talked about, but focus will be more toward individuals and small business.

Estate Tax Repeal – Steadfast opposition from Dems will bottle up any estate tax repeal. This issue is dead for now.

Health Care – Expect more talk and Congressional hearings. Major reforms could be proposed by Dems but there may be no real push until after 2008 Presidential election. Despite rhetoric, Dems may be reluctant to commit and risk ‘Hillary Care’ label before 2008.

Association Health Plans –
Proposal to exempt certain health insurance from state regulation. Dead for now.

Source: National Association of Professional Insurance Agents

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