Terrorism fight risks government shutdown

Terrorism fight risks government shutdown
© Greg Nash

A high-stakes fight over a post-9/11 terrorism insurance program is holding up a $1 trillion spending bill, just two days before funding for the federal government dries up.

House GOP leaders on Tuesday were close to unveiling their massive government-funding package, and aides in both parties have repeatedly said there is no risk of missing Thursday’s funding deadline.


But a dispute between two Capitol Hill heavyweights over how to renew the terrorism bill is bogging down the process, pushing Washington perilously close to the second government shutdown in as many years.

The spending bill is the last train leaving the station before Congress heads home for the holidays this week, so backers of the expiring Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) were hoping it could hitch a ride. 

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingLawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank House passes Ex-Im Bank reboot bill opposed by White House, McConnell Has Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? MORE (R-Texas) and New York Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerFixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates Beware the tea party of the left Bottom line MORE, the No. 3 Democrat in Senate leadership, have reached a deal on most elements in a reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA).

But Schumer and Democrats are harshly criticizing a push by Hensarling to include a provision in the final package that they say would weaken the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Law.

Hensarling wants to nix a regulation that requires non-financial companies — dubbed “end users” in Washington's financial services circles — to follow the same rules for the derivatives markets that are applied to banks.

House Republican leaders are leaning towards sending the TRIA deal negotiated by Schumer and Hensarling to the Senate with the end user provision attached, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

“This is an attempt to kill the bill, pure and simple. Adding in an extraneous, unrelated Dodd-Frank issue that Democrats oppose to a bipartisan TRIA bill that has been carefully negotiated puts the future of TRIA in doubt,” said a senior Democratic aide.

A version of the bill was posted on Tuesday afternoon, with the House Rules Committee set to consider it.

While Republicans have argued there is broad bipartisan support for the end-users change backed by Hensarling, the opposition from Schumer threatens to torpedo the bill.

Less clear is what it would mean for the government funding measure, which House GOP leaders have yet to release. Aides insisted on Thursday that the funding was not in danger and that there would be a House vote by Thursday.

Without a new funding bill, the government would close down on Friday. 

House GOP leaders had hoped to release their legislation funding the government on Monday. They are now trying to get it published Tuesday, which could set up a vote on Thursday under House GOP rules that require a day to elapse before the chamber votes on legislation.

That would leave little time for Senate consideration, and could force Congress to move a short-term measure to keep the government open for a few days. 

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Tuesday morning left the door open to a short-term continuing resolution (CR) lasting a day or two until both chambers can pass the cromnibus. 

“I don’t know,” he told reporters when asked if a CR is now an option. “It really depends on whether there are objections to our Senate proceedings to expedite it.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the negotiations could “drag on"” beyond Tuesday.

He said he hoped to go home Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

“I don't think I'm going home Thursday night, but that would be nice,” he said

The TRIA program allows the federal government to act as a backstop for businesses in case of a terrorist attack. Congress created it following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and is has the support of the business community as well as key players in Congress.

Democrats oppose the policy backed by Hensarling, arguing that risky trading by big businesses in the derivatives markets contributed to the 2008 collapse. Republicans argue that the rule provides unnecessary regulatory burdens that stifle economic growth.

Bernie Becker contributed to this story. 

This story was updated at 12:32 p.m.