Two congressional leaders stood before an audience of more than 1,000 insurance agents and brokers on April 19 to tell them, in part, how important their industry is to the economy and the country. They also gave the crowd several reality checks.
“I want you to succeed. I want you to expand. I want you to make good profits…,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told the huge, early-morning crowd at the Independent Agents and Brokers of America Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
“Thanks to the Big ‘I’ for all that you do,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “We all depend on you to protect us when things go wrong.”
While Hoyer and McConnell lauded the industry for how it contributes to economic stability, they also spent considerable time lowering expectations about how much Congress will be able to accomplish this year, even as the Big “I” and its members geared up for a massive Capitol Hill industry lobbying campaign for later in the morning.
Hoyer blamed the planned retirement of House Speaker Paul Ryan as putting the final nail in the coffin.
“The expectation now is that Republicans in both houses [of Congress] will not bring to the floor major legislation on the level of tax reform,” Hoyer explained, adding that he didn’t expect Congress would try to repeal or modify major programs such as the Affordable Care Act until after the election. That, in other words, leaves smaller opportunities through the rest of 2018.
For the Rest of 2018, Smaller Congressional Goals
“It means for the remainder of Congress, the focus will be on expiring items or other time-sensitive items where this is an opportunity, hopefully, for bipartisan agreement if the [Republican] party seeks it,” Hoyer said.
He noted, for example, that work will continue on reauthorization of the farm bill, which expires on Sept. 30. The bill, which includes renewal of crop insurance, has become partisan as it left committee as it also contains controversial cuts in nutritional assistance and bioenergy initiatives. Hoyer said that because the bill has become quite political, a bipartisan agreement on a final version will be difficult. Still, a bipartisan deal remains necessary and crucial, he said.
“Failure to reach a bipartisan agreement exacerbates uncertainty that farmers, and indeed many insurers, face,” Hoyer explained.
Similarly, he said that reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, which expires on July 31, has also been a difficult exercise, despite the three large hurricanes that taxed the system in 2017.
“It makes sense to reauthorize flood insurance. It is important for the private sector and government, and [instead] we let people twist in the wind,” Hoyer noted.
McConnell: Congress Has Gotten Things Done
McConnell, introduced as a huge supporter of independent agents, measured expectations a different way, pointing out that the Republican-led Congress has achieved, or is trying to achieve, a number of things that can help the insurance industry. Those items include easing the regulatory burden, revamping the tax code (which passed on a partisan, Republican vote), and appointing judges to the courts that interpret existing law rather than try to make it from the bench.
“What we’re hoping is that we’re going to get this country performing at the level it deserves to perform,” McConnell said. “What we’re trying to do in conjunction with the [Trump] administration is to have a less prescriptive government trying to micromanage and interfere with every aspect of American life.”
McConnell said that “there is no particular reason” Congress should have the level of disagreement on display “from time to time,” but assured the audience that “it is not as bad as you think it is.”
Media Misses Good
He said that the media doesn’t always address bipartisan accomplishments in Congress, such as comprehensive legislation passed meant to address opioid addiction and biotechnology treatments.
“I don’t want anyone to think we don’t come together on things you can agree on and make progress for the country,” McConnell said. “We do. It’s just that it is never covered” by the media.
Beyond various agent and broker groups, a number of property/casualty insurance carriers also served as sponsors of the conference, including Chubb, Travelers, Allstate, CNA, Encompass, Liberty Mutual Insurance, State Auto, Nationwide Insurance, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Assurant and XL Catlin.