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COMMENTARY: Risk management, insurance issues could languish in Congress


For your post-election consideration

The calendar may say April, but there's a good chance that the dog days of summer will be descending on Washington very soon, at least where Congress is concerned.

In fact, there's some sign they're already here, and odds are they'll still be here well into autumn if not longer.

Put bluntly, that means not to expect much in the way of action on any risk management or insurance issues between now and the post-election period.

While a lot of political oxygen already has been sucked out by ongoing battles over the budget, the deficit and other issues, the election looks like the key reason for legislative inactivity. All eyes are on Nov. 6, particularly given that it's a presidential election year. Nobody wants to make the fatal error of actually doing something if that something turns out to be a failure. That's just too great a chance to take while elections loom.

The partisan divide only serves to exacerbate matters. There is no political gain to be had through compromise, even on small matters.

So what does that mean in practical terms?

To begin with, little out of the routine will move forward. Congress probably will reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, but it may do so on a short-term basis, as has been the case in the recent past. House and Senate advocates of a long-term extension coupled with reform of the debt-ridden program have yet to agree on any legislation to achieve their objective.

On the subject of natural risks, there's probably next to no chance Congress will take up any catastrophe-related legislation before the election. Only a major catastrophe would be likely to spur action.

Don't expect much, if anything, in the way of insurance regulatory reform, no matter what the long-awaited report on insurance regulation has to say. It's an esoteric subject, and candidates like to keep things relatively simple in an election year.

Tort reform? No way. Preliminary discussion about extending the federal terrorism insurance backstop? Nope.

Instead, expect a lot of posturing between now and Nov. 6. But after Nov. 6, things could get considerably more interesting.

There's always the chance that a lame-duck session of Congress could be summoned after any election. The one that occurred in 1980, after Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter and the Republicans won control of the Senate for the first time in decades, gave us the Superfund. While the odds of even a lame-duck Congress doing something of equal impact this time around are slimmer, strange things happen when defeated lawmakers aren't worrying about re-election.

For the time being, expect little to nothing and you won't be disappointed. As they say after every sports season, wait "til next year. You don't have any choice.