NFL presses Congress on terrorism insurance

Renewal of a U.S. terrorism insurance plan is gaining momentum in Congress, thanks to some big-league backing from a coalition that includes professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey leagues.

The sports associations, along with insurers, developers, banks and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say their businesses could be wiped out by a September 11-style attack, unless the U.S. government continues its program to help protect them against losses from terrorism.

Now they see improving odds for passing a measure extending the financial backstop for the insurance before it expires December 31.

“I give it plus-90-percent,” said Mark Calabria, a former aide on the Senate Banking Committee who now directs financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute, a group that supports free markets. “It benefits from the fact that there’s a not a very strong coalition against it, whereas there’s a very deep coalition for it.”

With these powerful interests pushing for it, the terrorism insurance measure could join several business-backed items that have worked their way to President Barack Obama’s desk this session. The measures are the few successes in a U.S. Congress on track to be one of the least productive in history.

Other business priorities that passed with bipartisan support were extensions of the nation’s farm programs and federal flood insurance as well as a $12.3 billion water projects bill.

Terrorism Worries

“It is critical that arenas and stadiums continue to be insured against a terrorist act,” the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball League, the National Hockey League and other sports associations wrote in a September 18 letter to lawmakers. The terrorism backstop program is “the only reason that such insurance remains available to policyholders,” they said.

Advocates say they’re optimistic that Congress may complete work on an extension by the end of July. The House and Senate are poised this month to advance somewhat different bills renewing and reshaping the program, starting tomorrow when the Senate Banking Committee considers an extension for seven years that raises commercial insurers’ co-payments.

“We’ve obviously been very active in lobbying this issue,” said Justin Lumadue, director of congressional and public affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of 260 business groups signing an April 10 letter that urged swift renewal of the law.

Federal Reimbursement

Created in 2002 to jump-start the commercial insurance market after the September 11 attacks, the program guarantees federal reimbursement to insurers once the industry’s aggregate losses from a terrorist incident exceed $100 million.

The government’s annual liability is capped at $100 billion. The law was renewed in 2005 and 2007.

Insurers paid $31.6 billion in claims following the 2001 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people. The Coalition to Insure Against Terrorism, a Washington-based organization of businesses pushing for the law’s renewal, estimates that 300,000 jobs were lost following the Sept. 11 attacks because of the lack of terrorism insurance coverage.

Before 2001, damage from terrorism was typically covered in policies without additional charges because the possibility of an attack was seen as remote. After that, providers excluded acts of terror from commercial contracts and coverage became expensive if it was offered at all, according to a March report from the Congressional Research Service.

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