Senate Re-Authorizes Government's Role In Terrorism Insurance

The Senate has voted to reauthorize terrorism risk insurance, to help businesses stay solvent in the event of attacks. The bill faces a tougher road in the House, where some Republicans want to reduce the potential price tag for taxpayers.

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Today the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize a bill first passed after 9/11. It allows the government to act as a financial backstop in the event of a large terrorist attack. Supporters say it's crucial for anyone trying to build a shopping mall or skyscraper. But as NPR's Laura Sullivan reports, the bill may run into trouble in the house.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: In the days and months after the September 11th terrorist attacks - after the human toll had been calculated, the scope of the financial devastation became clear. More than $40 billion in loss from two collapsed skyscrapers, airplanes and damage to the Pentagon. That cost fell largely on reinsurers. A kind of insurance for insurance companies. After that, few reinsurers wanted anything to do with terrorism. Senator Dean Heller is a Republican from Nevada.

SENATOR DEAN HELLER: There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty about the frequency and potential size of future attacks.

SULLIVAN: Without the reinsurers, insurance companies started excluding terrorist attacks from their policies. But without those policies, bankers and investors walked. Analysts warned that the end result was going to be a grinding halt to the U.S. economy. That's when Congress stepped in with the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. Government would act as the reinsurer in the event of a catastrophic attack. New York Democrat Charles Schumer sponsored the bill that extends the program for another seven years.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: People will not build major complexes, whether they be skyscrapers in Chicago or New York or major shopping centers in South Dakota, unless they know that there's a backstop.

SULLIVAN: Some House Republicans have voiced concerns over the possible costs of the bill if there is an attack and want private insurers to have to do more. Nevertheless, the house is expected to take up a similar version next week. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, the Capitol.

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