WASHINGTON The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday to extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, as divisions over a competing measure continue to stymie House leaders.
Senate lawmakers passed the plan, which would reauthorize the program for seven years with some minor tweaks to its design, by a strong 93-4 vote. The terrorism risk insurance program, established after the 9/11 attacks, provides a government backstop for insurers and reinsurers in the event of a major terrorist attack.
"This long-term, seven year extension of TRIA promotes national security, economic growth, market certainty and job creation across the country all while protecting the taxpayer," said Sen. Tim Johnson, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, in a press release. The banking panel unanimously approved the measure last month.
The Senate also approved by voice vote a bipartisan amendment to the bill that would require the Federal Reserve Board to have at least one sitting member with community banking or supervision experience. Fed Chairman Janet Yellen discouraged the legislative mandate at a Senate Banking hearing on Tuesday, though she said she was supportive of having a community banker on the board.
"The Fed's role in bank supervision has greatly expanded, but Fed membership has dramatically shifted away from community bank experience and toward academic and economist experience," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a lead author of the measure, in a press release. "Community banks have been getting the short end of the stick in the financial sector and it's only gotten worse since the financial crisis and megabank bailouts."
House Republicans, meanwhile, continue to look for ways to move a related TRIA extension, despite opposition on both the right and left. The Financial Services Committee approved a bill last month down party lines that would extend the program for five years, while making more significant changes to its structure, including raising the trigger for when the guarantee would kick in and bifurcating certain kinds of terrorist events.
Several House aides confirmed that Republican leaders are having difficulty attracting enough votes to secure passage for the measure following a whip count earlier this week. Both Tea Party lawmakers who are opposed to the insurance program entirely, and moderate Republicans who would like to see a bill more like the Senate version, are said to be against the measure. House Democrats are also said to be uniformly opposed.
"With the progress now stalled on the bill passed by the House Financial Services Committee, House leaders must consider modifications or risk defeat on the floor," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., in a press release. "Failing that, the House should bring up the Senate-passed bill, which I believe would have the votes to pass the House."
It's not yet clear how House leaders will proceed, but a spokesman for Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, a lead author on the legislation, said that bill's supporters are not looking to make changes to the measure at this time.
"We're not going to modify our reforms on the House side. The committee and leadership are locking arms on this," the spokesman said.
He added that it's now unlikely the measure will be considered this month.
"We'll spend the next few months educating members, and from our perspective, we're not in a hurry at all. The program expires Dec. 31, and we'll take as long as it takes," the spokesman said. "Stakeholders need to make a decision, the ones that really want this bill if they want to move this forward or run the risk of a short-term extension or potentially nothing at all."
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the banking panel, added in a press release following the Senate vote that he remains "committed to getting a bill passed" over the next several months.
"We have some members who believe the reforms go too far and we also have a host of conservatives who feel the reforms don't go far enough. Washington is paying a lot of attention to one group's concerns, but not enough attention to the other's. That's got to change if any TRIA bill is going to pass," he said.