Business tries to quell conservative rebellion over terrorism insurance

A business coalition is trying to prevent a conservative uprising against a federal insurance program for terrorist attacks.

The Coalition to Insure Against Terrorism (CIAT) has been reaching out to conservative-leaning lawmakers and groups, including Heritage Action for America, to sell them on the need for the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA).

The program is set to expire at the end of the year, and industry lobbyists are worried that conservative opposition could doom its reauthorization in the House. Last time the law was renewed in 2007, activists on the right lobbied against it, calling it big government run amok. 

But major companies, worried about the economic fallout from a terrorist attack, say the program cannot be allowed to lapse.  

“It's an important part of making sure that the economy can move forward in the event of an terrorist attack,” Martin DePoy, CIAT’s steering committee coordinator, told The Hill. “This is a priority of the business community to get this passed.”

As part of the coalition’s lobbying campaign, they have reached out to conservative-leaving activists to make the case for the insurance program.

“It's logical for us to talk to those who might have opposition, including Heritage Action for America,” DePoy said. “We are reaching out to the conservative wing of the party that may be skeptical of the program. That's part of our due diligence. We want to educate everyone about the importance of TRIA.”

On Thursday, the coalition — which includes brand names like Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International, NASCAR and several powerful business groups — met with officials from Heritage Action and the Heritage Foundation to discuss TRIA.

“It was the type of open and honest conversation we need more of in Washington,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action.

Nevertheless, Holler said the conservative activist group remains opposed to reauthorizing the law.

“TRIA had an important and temporary purpose in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. More than a decade later though, the program is no longer necessary and instead serves merely as a form of corporate welfare to insurance companies,” Holler said.

Other conservatives groups also remain opposed to the insurance program.

“We are opposed to TRIA because the government shouldn’t be in the insurance business,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club for Growth.

Moreover, Patrick Hedger, a policy analyst at FreedomWorks, said his group is not on board.

“We maintain our position on the TRIA and we are opposed to its reauthorization,” Hedger said. 

Once various thresholds are met, TRIA essentially provides a federal backstop for the insurance damages from a terrorist attack.

Under TRIA, insured losses from terrorism must reach $100 million in a year for the government to step in. Then the government can pay 85 percent of the coverage for the attack. But insurers also must meet deductibles of 20 percent of their annual premiums, and the Treasury Department has the discretion to recoup its losses through fees on the insurers.

The law first passed in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks, and has since been extended twice by Congress. 

Supporters of TRIA say terrorism risks are uninsurable because they are impossible to predict. They say businesses will lose their terrorism coverage en masse if the federal program is scrapped

The fight over the reauthorization is set to become another front in the war between business and the Tea Party.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are working on legislation to reauthorize the law.

In the Senate, Banking Committee Chairman Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Bank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit MORE (D-S.D.) has been working with panel members to build support from both parties for TRIA’s reauthorization. Johnson hopes to move a bill forward this spring, according to a Senate Banking Committee aide.

Business lobbyists are facing a tougher climb in the House.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is not a fan of TRIA.

The lawmaker, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, has said that he is skeptical of extending the program. Hensarling has noted that TRIA was supposed to be a temporary program after the 9/11 attacks to help ease the transition towards a private terrorism risk insurance market.

Lawmakers in both chambers are looking at legislation, with both Hensarling and Johnson holding hearings on the issue.

Hensarling is under pressure from his committee members to move on TRIA. He noted Rep. Michael Grimm’s (R-N.Y.) advocacy for the program at a September 2013 committee hearing.

“I will admit that the timing of the hearing — I had originally thought I would have this hearing in December — but the gentleman from New York, Mr. Grimm, is very persistent,” Hensarling said. “And so at his persistence we are having this hearing today.”

TRIA is a big issue for New York and other urban centers in America. As prime terrorist targets, those areas stand to suffer the most if they cannot be insured against an attack.

Three House bills have already been introduced this Congress. Grimm’s own bipartisan legislation would extend the program to 2019 and has garnered 85 co-sponsors so far.

Hensarling says he does plan to act on the issue. At a March 13 markup, the chairman said that he plans for his committee to work its will on TRIA long before it expires this December.

The coalition will likely ramp up its lobbying as the expiration date draws closer for TRIA.

Dormant since 2008, the group has signed up lobbyists again in 2013, hiring Arnold & Porter and the Bockorny Group, and has spent $370,000 so far on lobbying fees, according to disclosure records.

“We have been really active on this issue from Day One,” said DePoy, also with Bockorny. “We are not going to rule out any advocacy effort, from ads to grassroots campaigns, to get this done.”