As the dust settles on the 2014 midterm elections, agents across the country may be wondering how this new balance of power will affect federal issues that impact the day-to-day business of insurance.
Republicans controlling the U.S. Senate for the first time since 2006 will mean new Senate leadership, new Senate Committee chairs and new priorities. The House of Representatives will remain in Republican control, meaning most of the current chairs and leadership will likely remain. But the Republican House will now deal with a Republican Senate, which in many cases will change priorities and expectations.
For the insurance industry and the Big “I” in particular, the new balance of power in Congress will likely end up being somewhat of a mixed bag. On some issues, the power shift could have little to no real impact. For example, the association’s top two federal priorities—enactment of the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Reform Act (NARAB II) and an extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA)—enjoy bipartisan support. The Senate already passed its seven-year TRIA bill, with NARAB II included, by a 93-4 vote. The Big “I” is optimistic that Congress will complete their work on a long-term reauthorization of TRIA and passage of NARAB II during the lame duck session of Congress and that the election results will not change the current focus. In the event that this Congress only passes a short-term extension of TRIA, terrorism insurance will be a top priority for the Big “I” next year. If agent licensing reform is not included in any TRIA package this year, NARAB II will be a top issue for 2015 as well.
Similarly, the change in control likely won’t have a large impact on the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) since it is a regional program that will continue to garner support from traditional farming states, regardless of which party controls those seats.
But the election results could have a significant impact on other Big “I” legislative priorities, including greater oversight of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and efforts to finally fix some of the law’s more problematic provisions—though President Obama’s veto authority could certainly complicate that process.
The changes may also result in greater oversight of the NFIP and perhaps more interest in exploring ways to privatize the program. Finally, a Republican Congress will almost certainly take a hard look at Dodd-Frank and could challenge or revise certain provisions in that law, including attempts to ease capital requirements for large insurance companies and hamstring federal regulators in their potential oversight of large insurers. Reigning in the Federal Insurance Office created by Dodd-Frank could also be on the table.
While it is impossible to predict exactly what any new Congress will attempt, the kind of power shift we saw this week offers both opportunities and risks, and the Big “I” bipartisan federal government affairs team is prepared to handle both.
Charles Symington is Big “I” senior vice president of government affairs.