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WASHINGTON, DC-The US Senate has taken a small step, but a step nonetheless, toward passing terrorism insurance legislation with its Tuesday vote of 65-31 to limit the debate on the legislation by not introducing irrelevant amendments. The vote will allow members to move ahead in discussions on S.2600, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, at a more rapid and uninterrupted pace. The bill would institute a federal backstop for insurers providing terrorism coverage. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had threatened to drop the bill all together if it were to get mired down in superfluous debate.

“We have a finite amount of time to do an infinite number of items,” Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid explained to his colleagues on the Senate floor the day before the vote. “We have been very patient waiting for people to file amendments on legislation. We just cannot stand around in quorum calls all day and then deal with amendments that have nothing to do with the basic legislation that the whole country says is important.” Since September 11, the real estate industry has suffered from a bevy of cancellations of commercial transactions, as much as 300% increases in terrorism insurance coverage, and the ratings downgrade of several prominent properties. The bill on the table would take some of the pressure off the insurers by instituting a backstop–the insurance industry would be responsible for paying a maximum $10 billion in terrorism related insurance costs for two years, after which the government would pay 90% of the costs beyond that amount.

While restrictions have been placed on deliberations, problems still remain in passing the bill. The most significant point of contention is a partisan one. Republicans want to ban all punitive damages for US companies, but Democrats want the legislation to allow victims to sue companies in the event of negligence. Some Republican senators have indicated that President Bush would not sign off on a bill that would leave companies exposed to unlimited punitive damages.

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