Did Tom Coburn Just Cancel the Super Bowl?

By | December 17, 2014

No, is the short answer. The longer answer is more complicated.

As has now been widely reported, it appears the U.S. Senate will not, after all, pass legislation extending the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Act before the program’s scheduled expiration Dec. 31. The House had already passed the bill (about which, we’ve already expressed our quibbles) and Senate leadership reportedly had enough votes even to sustain any one of a number of potential 60-vote procedural motions.

In the end, however, a threatened hold from outgoing Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will sideline the measure for the rest of the year. Despite earlier promising that “we’re going to have to be here until we finish our work, whether that’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sounded tonight like he was ready to throw in the towel on this one:

“His objection is going to kill TRIA,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday night, referring to Coburn.

“If we change the bill it’s gone,” Reid said. “Amending the TRIA bill would just be another way to kill the TRIA bill.”

Originally passed in 2002, TRIA requires commercial property insurers to offer terrorism insurance coverage to their clients in certain key lines of business, and creates a $100 billion federal reinsurance backstop for terrorism-related losses. The bill under consideration would raise the point at which coverage is “triggered” from the current $100 million in terrorism-related losses to $200 million.

Long a skeptic of the TRIA program, Coburn said his objection actually was to a separate provision to create the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers, a nationwide registry of licensed insurance agents that was originally proposed as part of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley financial reform bill back in 1999:

He is criticizing the creation of a national, nonprofit clearinghouse that would allow insurance agents to register and establish a national standard, and he says states should be able to opt out of the program.

Coburn spokeswoman Elaine Joseph said that Coburn wants to offer an amendment allowing for the opt-out.

“If NARAB [National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers] is as popular as proponents say that it is, no state will ever opt out and the amendment will be moot,” Joseph said.

While we did not and would not advise allowing the program to expire abruptly, as it likely will cause at least a few weeks of consternation over what coverage insureds do or do not still have, neither is a short-term expiration of the program necessarily the catastrophic event some in the affected industries would have you believe. The broad outlines of a deal – albeit, as already mentioned above, not a deal we at R Street were especially pleased to see — clearly are already in place.

While there is a chance that the new Republican majority in the Senate would entertain somewhat broader and somewhat deeper reforms to the program than the outgoing Democratic majority, truly transformative changes aren’t really in the cards, and there’s almost zero chance that the program would stay expired for long. An extension could potentially even be passed “retroactively.”

Perhaps top of mind to the general public, who don’t usually pay much attention to obscure federal reinsurance programs, is that one particularly pernicious rumor should finally be put to rest: no one is canceling the Super Bowl over terrorism insurance. The NFL is now making this as clear as possible:

But NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told CNN in an email Tuesday that the speculation over the Super Bowl being canceled is “not true.”

“The Super Bowl will be played,” Aiello said.

About Ray Lehmann

Lehmann is co-founder of the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C. where he serves as director, Finance, Insurance & Trade, and is a senior fellow. He can be reached at rlehmann@rstreet.org. More from Ray Lehmann

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