White House Vows to Fight Fiduciary Rule Rider

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By Chris Opfer and Cheryl Bolen

Dec. 8 — The White House is digging in for a battle over the Labor Department's fiduciary rule that could play out in the government funding process.

“We are going to aggressively oppose any effort by Republicans to water down that rule,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Dec. 8. The rule, which was proposed in April, would extend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act's conflict-of-interest requirements to brokers handling workers' retirement savings.

Earnest's comments come as Republicans continue to push an appropriations rider that would block the rule from taking effect. Policy riders are among the issues that have slowed negotiations on an omnibus measure that would keep the federal government open for business when its current funding runs out Dec. 11.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, told reporters Dec. 8 that the rider is “still in play.”

“The best thing that I can say about it is there's strong bipartisan support; there are a lot of Democrats that have a lot of concerns about this rule,” Cole said. “So, in some sense, this is a classic institutional fight between the legislative branch and the executive branch and a little bit less of a partisan fight than something like Planned Parenthood might be.”

The DOL and other supporters of the rule (RIN 1210-AB32) say it will tighten conflict-of-interest restrictions to prevent retirement advisers from pushing costly products to pad their commissions. Critics are concerned, however, that the rule will make it more difficult for low-income workers to get adequate retirement advice.

Although the DOL scrapped a previous version of the rule in 2011 as a result of at least some bipartisan concern, only three Democrats crossed the aisle to help pass legislation (H.R. 1090) to stop the rule in the House on Oct. 27. In September, 96 House Democrats signed a letter outlining a list of recommendations for improving the rule before it is finalized.

And some Democrats are behind an effort to delay the proposal by adding another comment period (see related article in this issue).

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com; and Cheryl Bolen in Washington at cbolen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com