The Retirement Policy Agenda: What’s Next in Congress

Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...

By Madison Alder

Retirement policy appears to be the next frontier for Congress.

Just this week, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said a major bipartisan retirement bill may be added to “Tax Reform 2.0,” and four new bipartisan retirement bills were introduced in the Senate.

Here’s a look at some of the legislation and where it stands.

1. Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act

This is a bipartisan piece of legislation that would make it easier for employers to sponsor retirement plans and open up options for independent workers, among other things.

The bill (S. 2526) would make multiple changes to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in its current form, making it the most sweeping piece of retirement legislation since the Pension Protection Act of 2006. The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved a version of RESA in 2016, but it never saw a floor vote.

Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) reintroduced a modified version of the bill in March, and it has since stalled in committee.

RESA’s sister bill in the House (H.R. 5282) is sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and 56 other representatives from both sides of the aisle. The bill is currently in the hands of in the House Ways and Means and Education and the Workforce committees

Up Next: The bill is still in the committees but soon could get a new path to a floor vote. Brady said he’s considering including RESA in his outline for “Tax Reform 2.0" next week.

2. The Save Community Newspapers Act

This bill (H.R. 6377) would increase the amount of time community newspapers have to fund their long-term pension obligations.

It was introduced in the House by Reps. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) and David Reichert (R-Wa.) this week, and promptly approved by Ways and Means. Paulsen pointed to consolidation in the newspaper industry as a factor in their funding woes during the July 18 markup.

Up Next: The bill will be sent to the full House for a vote.

3. Four Bipartisan Bills

Four pieces of legislation introduced in the Senate this week lay out the future for retirement legislation if RESA is passed, staffers told Bloomberg Law July 18.

The proposals were introduced by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

One of the bills, the Small Business Employees Retirement Enhancement Act (S.3219), would open multiple employer plans and work in conjunction with RESA, a spokeswoman for Heitkamp told Bloomberg Law in an email July 18.

The other three bills would allow employers to offer stand-alone short-term savings accounts (S. 3218), introduce a structure for a “Rainy Day Savings Fund” for workers (S. 3220), and amend the tax code with a nondiscrimination safe harbor for automatic contribution arrangements (S. 3221).

Up Next: Heitkamp’s and Booker’s bills were sent to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Cotton’s and Young’s bills will go to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

4. Multiemployer Legislation

The Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pensions is working toward a November deadline to find solution to the crisis in funding among multiemployer pensions, several of which could be insolvent in the coming decade.

The multiemployer pension program operated by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures public pensions, is already $65 billion short.

The committee is co-chaired by Hatch and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). If the committee doesn’t come up with a solution by November, legislation on the issue won’t get priority vote, and the committee will be disbanded.

Up Next: The committee is holding another hearing on July 25 to consider how the crisis affects stakeholders.

5. Other Bipartisan Retirement Efforts

Other bipartisan bills pending in Congress include House bills that would make it easier for employers to provide guaranteed lifetime income products to their retirement plan participants by adding a safe harbor to ERISA (H.R. 4604), and a bill that would make it easier for retirees to receive electronic disclosures (H.R. 4610).

The first bill was introduced by Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) in December 2017 and the second was introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and is cosponsored by 42 other members.

Up Next: The bills are awaiting consideration in the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Committee on Ways and Means.

What the Industry Is Saying

RESA is ready to go in its current form, Dianne Howland, vice president legislative affairs at the American Benefits Council, an employer advocate group in Washington, told Bloomberg Law.

The four bipartisan bills introduced in the Senate this week “should be examined,” but at a later date, Howland said. “Ideally, the Senate would take [RESA] as it is rather than turning it into RESA’s pieces.”

The momentum currently behind retirement legislation also could carry it to the next Congress.

“The field is far from fully set,” Brian Graff, CEO of the American Retirement Association, told Bloomberg Law. “There will be other members of Congress getting into the retirement game.”

Graff said he expects Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) will be the next players to get more involved in retirement issues.

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