The voters have spoken. Republicans have increased their slight advantage in the Senate, while Democrats have flipped the House and will now be in control there. Of course, President Trump, a Republican, still occupies the White House. Now what? What do the politics of the new Congress mean for the property/casualty insurance industry?
While it is possible that the newly-divided 116th Congress could pass bipartisan legislation of interest to the property/casualty insurance industry, it is also possible that Congressional investigations, intraparty differences, and 2020 presidential politics will crowd out any real legislating, according to two insurance insiders speaking in an exclusive discussion with Wells Media.
Last week, before the Thanksgiving holiday, Wells Media’s Andy Simpson asked two Washington insiders who closely monitor and help shape property/casualty issues in on Capitol Hill to discuss the post-election dynamics and the ramifications for the property/casualty insurance industry. The experts offering their analyses and insights were: Ray Lehmann, co-founder and director of insurance policy at R Street Institute, a public policy and research group advocating for free markets and efficient government; and Charles Symington, senior vice president for external industry and government affairs at the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, the largest association of insurance agents and brokers.
The complete exclusive Symington-Lehmann discussion, Now What? America’s Mid-Term Elections and the Property/Casualty Insurance Industry, is available free on Insurance Journal TV.
Kicking off the discussion, Symington described the new landscape where each party has claimed some turf.
“I would almost call the election a tale of two races. You saw at the very least a blue rising tide in the House, and it looks like at the end of the day Democrats will most likely gain close to 40 seats in the House of Representatives, right now 38, 39 is probably the best guess. So that will give them a comfortable margin in the House of along the lines of a 16, 17 seat majority,” said Symington.
“And in the Senate, like I said a tale of two races, you see Republicans picking up two seats, subject to a runoff in Mississippi where the Republican is expected to win. So, the margin in the Senate for Republicans will be 53/47. They’ll have that three-seat cushion.”
The agency system lobbyist then added some color: “I will say while there may not have been a blue wave, although one could probably reasonably argue there might have been one in the House, there certainly was a green wave, and Democrats took advantage of that. In terms of the fundraising, Democrats had a very significant advantage in the House. A lot of times money talks, and I do think that … was a contributing factor.”
Lehmann compares the Democrat’s wave this election to the Tea Party movement in the Republican Party and thinks Democrats may have some work to do uniting as a caucus.
“What’s interesting about the Democratic caucus in the House is unlike sort of the post-Tea Party Republicans, they’re a pretty fractious caucus. There isn’t a single way to be a Democrat today. A lot of the new members are more moderate. They came from swing districts. Some of them are those Obama-Trump districts that had gone for Obama and then went to Trump in 2016, more working class, sometimes more labor oriented. Some of them are these suburban districts, which you would call the more Romney-Clinton districts that a lot of college educated women came out to vote and provided the margins. And so they’re going to need to build consensus within their own caucus first on what sorts of legislative priorities they have before they even get to the Senate, which actually I think it can work,” Lehmann said.
Lehmann recalled divided government did not work so well during the Obama White House but did work “pretty well” during the Clinton White House.
“So, which of those models or versions of divided government is going to emulate is something we don’t know. We do know that in the Senate a large number of the members are going to be running for president from day one. And so how that affects whether they can cut a deal on things like infrastructure and actually try to provide governance, or if it’s just going to be the permanent campaign, we’ll get to see,” Lehmann said.
Symington agreed that there are some moderates among the new Democrats but noted that there is also “a lot of energy on the progressive side” of the Democratic Party that will add to that fractious nature of their caucus in the House. He drew a parallel with the energy of the conservative caucus within the Republican House that sometimes makes it difficult for leadership to “corral the troops” and thinks Democratic leaders might face some a similar challenge.
Symington and Lehmann both see potential obstacles to Congress addressing key issues.
For Symington, there is the prospect of Democrats focusing on oversight and investigation of the Trump administration.
“I think that the House Democrats are going to spend a lot of time on that and I think that’s going to impact the policy agenda in a number of ways. Now number one obviously if you’re a fan or a supporter of some of the regulatory initiatives coming out of the Trump administration, those pro-business initiatives, it’s going to tend to slow that down a little bit,” he said.
“Number two, there’s only so much oxygen in the room in Congress as well, so as you have these committees of jurisdiction focusing more and more on oversight, well that’s less time that they could focus on important policy matters, whether that’s trade or flood insurance or crop insurance,” added the Big “I” lobbyist.
Lehmann worries that there are various senators plotting to run for president and there is a small, if any, window of opportunity for legislating before presidential politics kicks in.
“It kicks in from day one. I don’t think we’re going to have a period where we’re not looking forward to November 2020, because we’ve been looking forward to November 2020 since November 2016,” the R Street leader said. “It is already in progress. That doesn’t mean you can’t get some legislating done also, but there’s going to be a challenge and they will have to come up with a set of definable issues that they want to be legislating on.”
Despite the obstacles, they both also see room for optimism that some work will get done. They discuss the prospects in Congress for specific issues including flood insurance, terrorism reinsurance, data privacy, crop insurance, federal regulatory rollback, financial regulation, taxes, trade, marijuana and more.
The two also reveal some of the important members of Congress who are leaving as well as current and new members of Congress with ties to the insurance industry.
For more from the exclusive interview see: Insiders Symington, Lehmann Analyze Mid-Term Elections for P/C Insurance.
The complete exclusive Symington-Lehmann discussion, Now What? America’s Mid-Term Elections and the Property/Casualty Insurance Industry, is available free on Insurance Journal TV. Their discussion on flood insurance can be be found here: Could Next Congress Actually Reform Flood Insurance?
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