House passes extension of terrorism insurance

The House on Wednesday passed legislation to extend the terrorism risk insurance program through 2020 despite objections from Democrats over the inclusion of unrelated provisions to change the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.

The measure passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 417-7. All of the seven votes in opposition were from Republicans.

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Congress created the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) in 2002 as a temporary program following the Sept. 11 attacks. It allows for the federal government to recoup costs for businesses after a terror attack in which the damage exceeds $100 million.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) negotiated a six-year reauthorization and doubled the damage threshold to $200 million.

It's unclear if the bill will die in the Senate as Schumer has suggested, though the near-unanimous vote in the House could make it harder for the upper chamber to ignore.

Senate Democrats and the White House oppose an amendment that they say would weaken the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. The provision would no longer require non-financial institutions — dubbed "end users" — from following the same regulations as big banks.

The White House said it "strongly opposes" the Dodd-Frank reforms included in the measure, but stopped short of a veto threat. 

Republicans — along with 181 House Democrats who supported a House version of the "end users" bill — argue that this would help lessen regulatory burdens in Dodd-Frank and boost economic growth.

Hensarling and other Tea Party conservatives pushed to reform TRIA and increase the threshold, arguing that it puts taxpayers at risk for terror attacks that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Texas Republican argued the inclusion of the Dodd-Frank changes expanded beyond insurers the number of groups who would benefit from the legislation.

"We have an opportunity to pass a bipartisan bill, not only to bring some stability and certainty to our insurance markets and our bankers, but to farmers and ranchers and small businesses and hurting families at this holiday season," Hensarling said. 

In a remarkably personal exchange on the House floor, Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, unloaded her frustrations with Hensarling over the TRIA negotiations.

"He strung out the possibility of negotiations for months. He had decided that he was not going to reauthorize terrorism insurance," Waters said.

Waters accused Hensarling of trying to insert unrelated provisions to change Dodd-Frank whenever possible and lengthening negotiations.

"It seems as if my chairman has problems with providing for the average citizen on Main Street. But no problems when talking about how we can enhance the ability of the biggest banks in America and others to get richer and richer," Waters said. 

Hensarling denied that he hoped to kill the program.

"I … thank the gentlelady for her long and fascinating narrative that proves just how reasonable Republicans were in this. But I have to correct, I have never said publicly or privately that we should allow the backstop to lapse," Hensarling responded tersely.

Yet other Democrats expressed support for the bill.

"This bill represents a true bipartisan compromise," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).