ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A program that grew out of the September 11 attacks became the first bill to pass the new Congress. It cleared the Senate overwhelmingly this afternoon, a day after passing the House. It guarantees insurance payments in the event of a terrorist attack. It actually lapsed at the end of December. Shopping malls, big city high-rises and sports stadium events, like the Super Bowl, all count on this program, but as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, critics call it a form of corporate welfare.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The Terrorism Risk Insurance program, or TRIA, as it's called, was first enacted in the days after the 9/11 attacks when the private market for terrorism insurance collapsed. The program guarantees the federal government and taxpayers will pay insurance companies after a terrorist strike, if the companies' losses exceed $200 billion dollars - Republican Senator Michael Crapo of Idaho.
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SENATOR MICHAEL CRAPO: Getting terrorism risk insurance right is important in order to protect taxpayers and limit the economic and physical impact of any future terrorist attack on the United States.
NAYLOR: The measure was approved with bipartisan support. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said the program benefits not only insurance companies, but individuals.
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SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: Not just those who insure buildings and build buildings, but people who work in buildings - office workers, restaurant workers, those who work at shopping centers, sports fans, those who care about having new stadiums, all of these depend on terrorism risk insurance.
NAYLOR: The measure approved by Congress also contains an unrelated provision that changes the Dodd-Frank financial regulations in a way that Democrats say will protect some businesses at the expense of taxpayers. But an amendment sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to remove that language was defeated. The government has not had to pay out any claims under the TRIA program. But Mark Calabria, of the libertarian Cato Institute, says that doesn't mean insurance companies aren't getting a good deal from taxpayers.
MARK CALABRIA: I certainly think as evident from the tremendous amount of lobbying that's gone on around TRIA is that the industry does believe it is something of value that they're getting from the taxpayer.
NAYLOR: Calabria notes the program was originally intended to be a temporary one and that today's action in the Senate is just the latest extension, putting off a permanent solution. He suggests that insurance companies could approach the problem as they do with natural disasters in states like Florida.
CALABRIA: Florida has set up what's called citizens insurance, which covers homeowners insurance in Florida because, essentially, private insurers aren't allowed to charge and don't want to charge flooding risk, hurricane risk, that is there and Florida's set up something state specific. So for me you could easily set up a state compact of New York, Texas, California, Illinois and you've covered what is going to be 90 percent of the terrorism risk that's out there.
NAYLOR: The measure approved today extends TRIA for another six years. Its passage was hailed by business groups. The Real Estate Roundtable calls it essential public policy that will aid job creation and support economic growth nationwide. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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