Insurance industry's Hail Mary: The NFL

Insurance industry's Hail Mary: The NFL
© Getty Images

The National Football League is pushing Congress to reauthorize a long-term insurance program during the lame-duck session.

Most attention on pro football’s presence in Washington these days has centered on the league’s response to the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal and hometown team’s mascot. But NFL officials have quietly been working with a broad coalition of business groups pressing Congress for a long-term reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA).

Congress must reauthorize TRIA, which provides emergency insurance funding to businesses impacted by massive terror attacks, by the end of the year — or the program will expire.

"While domestic violence issues have been grabbing headlines, the NFL has been a more effective advocate on TRIA," said one senior aide to a House Republican.

For the NFL, it's a matter of protecting its more than 30 stadiums nationwide that can seat hundreds of thousands of spectators. Those stadiums, TRIA supporters note, are home to thousands of jobs each Sunday.

The NFL declined repeated requests to comment for this story.

The league has teamed up with a coalition of prominent, inside-the-beltway business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to push for a longer-term TRIA reauthorization.

The “Coalition to Insure Against Terrorism” (CIAT) includes all of the other major sporting leagues and nearly 80 top business groups spanning the retail, banking and tourism industries.

All are urging a long-term TRIA reauthorization and oppose a short-term TRIA extension.

“CIAT is a broad coalition representing nearly every sector of the US economy including professional athletic organizations," said CIAT-steering coordinator Martin Depoy. "It only makes sense that the NFL, with its large national fan and employee base, would be part of our coalition and have a vested interest in TRIA’s long-term reauthorization.”

The coalition backs the Senate's seven-year TRIA reauthorization bill, which passed in July by a 93-4 vote — a rare feat for a politically divided upper Chamber. The House hasn't voted, in part because of Tea Party opposition.

Tea Party critics say that TRIA must be overhauled to better protect taxpayers against having to spend billions of dollars bailing out businesses after a large-scale attack. And they stress that the program was pitched as temporary when it was
created in 2002 following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) — a top TRIA critic whose Committee has jurisdiction on the issue — reluctantly supported a five-year TRIA reauthorization bill that moved through his committee in June.

But the legislation lacked enough support by House Republicans, and it was never brought to a vote.

"The federal government, free from competition and unable to make hard choices, has a long and ugly history of insurance schemes that underestimate and misprice risk," Hensarling, who declined comment for this story, wrote in a Nov. 11 op-ed for The Washington Times

"Each time the purported beneficiaries end up more at risk while taxpayers end up footing the bill."

And while the program has been reauthorized in recent years without any political hiccups, Tea Partiers are now pushing for reforms to the program that they say would protect taxpayers for billions of dollars in losses.

Democrats have tasked Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Democrats should stop playing politics on Kavanaugh Montana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad Strong job growth drives home choice for voters this election MORE (D-N.Y.) with brokering a deal with Hensarling. But Hensarling could also face pressure from within his own party. GOP House leadership has publicly supported him — even if it means a short-term, six-to-nine month extension is needed.

But House Financial Services Committee member Rep. Stephen FincherStephen Lee FincherTensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP Trump backs Blackburn's Tennessee Senate bid Corker backs Blackburn for Senate seat after retirement tensions MORE (R-Tenn.) has compiled the signatures of more than 40 House Republican members on a letter urging GOP leadership to back a long-term reauthorization. The letter is expected to be released once Congress returns.

A second senior aide to a member who supports a long-term TRIA reauthorization said that the NFL is working with member offices on the issue.

"They definitely are more engaged with Republican offices than the Democratic side," the staffer said. "There only have been one or two discussions with Democratic staff because, obviously, more work needs to be done on the Republican side."

Eileen Gilligan, a senior director at Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), said that banks require businesses such as the NFL to have terrorism insurance before they will offer loans.

Gilligan and other long-term TRIA supporters argue that a short-term extension would result in economic uncertainty for the terrorism insurance market and could prevent businesses from getting loans.

"Waiting for a TRIA reauthorization impairs the ability to execute on the kind of long lead planning required for large-scale events and infrastructure development, such as football stadiums," Gilligan said.