Time Running Short to Extend Terrorism Risk Insurance Act | Commentary

Posted December 2, 2014 at 12:59pm

Congress has much to do and not much time to do it before year’s end. Fortunately, leaders on both sides of the aisle have made it clear that renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, or TRIA, is a “must-do” before Congress adjourns. The program, first enacted in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, has been extended twice because lawmakers understand it is a vital component of our national defense and economic security, and is fundamental to thwarting the economic goals of terrorism.

Sadly, the terrorist threats that endangered us then have not gone away. Time has demonstrated that only a public-private partnership like TRIA can provide the certainty and stability that’s needed to protect the nation’s economy against major acts of terror. Congress cannot delay any longer. A long-term extension of TRIA must be approved before it expires on Dec. 31.

TRIA has always enjoyed strong bipartisan and bicameral support in Congress. This is true because the partnership has worked well and, at the same time, has protected the interests of taxpayers throughout its existence. In fact, without TRIA, RAND estimates the federal government would spend billions more in disaster assistance following an attack.

The federal government is responsible for defending our nation. As part of this obligation, it must also take steps to ensure our economy does not unduly suffer from terrorist acts. TRIA ensures that an orderly economic recovery would follow any major terrorist act.

Policyholders and the financial markets can suffer losses even if they aren’t the direct targets of the terrorism. That makes a terrorist attack a national security risk by its very nature. TRIA provides the federal backing that’s necessary to maintain a well functioning terrorism insurance marketplace, one that is essential for more than 60 percent of U.S. businesses today.

And it’s particularly important now. If TRIA isn’t extended by year’s end, the certainty and stability the law provided to businesses will end. The private sector has showed remarkable resilience over the past decade. It would be a huge mistake to undermine that progress by failing to renew this fundamental partnership. For example, new construction and development could grind to a halt because those projects can’t go forward without terrorism insurance coverage.

Time may be short, but important groundwork has already been laid. In July, the Senate passed a seven-year extension with overwhelming bipartisan support, 93-4. Also earlier this year, the House Financial Services Committee advanced a five-year extension of the program. Both proposals are long-term extensions and for good reason. Lawmakers understand the importance of facilitating an orderly marketplace.

Over the years, under each renewal insurers have assumed additional financial responsibility. In other words, insurers have put more skin in the game every time TRIA has been extended. That would be true again this time. Billions of private sector dollars would have to go out the door before the government steps in to provide any financial support. What’s more, the primary responsibility for financial recovery under TRIA is placed on the private sector in all but the most catastrophic of events. And even then, the partnership established by TRIA enables the government to recoup its losses after the event.

No one wants to contemplate the aftermath of another terrorist attack like 9/11 or something even worse. But insurers must do so. It’s their job. Likewise, an orderly economic recovery goes hand-in-hand with a strong national defense against terrorism. TRIA remains a necessary public-private partnership in an uncertain world. That is why leaders of many industries have worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to help craft a long-term reauthorization of TRIA that protects taxpayers and our economy overall. The time has come for Congress to come together and pass a long-term extension of TRIA before the clock runs out.

Leigh Ann Pusey is president and CEO of the American Insurance Association.