Senate joins House in effort to deny DOL fiduciary funding

Both chambers move to derail president's call for a best-interest standard for retirement accounts

Jun 23, 2015 @ 4:38 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

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The Senate joined the House on Tuesday in trying to shut down a rule proposed by the Department of Labor to raise investment advice standards for retirement accounts.

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee approved a bill that included language to deny DOL funding to finalize and implement the fiduciary rule.

The provision is part of a $153.2 billion measure that would fund DOL, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education and several other agencies for fiscal-year 2016.

Both the Senate and House spending bills for the agencies include a so-called rider to defund the DOL rule. The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on its version on Wednesday. The Senate bill will now head to the full appropriations panel in that chamber.

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez indicated the agency would forge ahead with the fiduciary rule despite resistance from Capitol Hill.

“Every year in the appropriations cycle we deal with this same process, and we will continue to fight for what's best for American consumers,” Mr. Perez told reporters on the sidelines of a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Tuesday.

Mr. Perez is a veteran of battles against appropriations riders.

“There was an effort last year to do the same,” Mr. Perez said. “It was not successful.”

But unlike last year, when Democrats had the leverage of a Senate majority to stop the fiduciary defunding rider, Republicans now control both the House and Senate.

In a speech at an event sponsored by the Hamilton Project at Brookings, Mr. Perez said that finalizing the rule in the remaining 577 days of the Obama administration was “at or near the top of the list of the things we need to do to strengthen the middle class.”

In talking to reporters, Mr. Perez added: “We're making real progress toward producing a final rule that will be … a win for consumers, a win for [advisory] businesses that want a level playing field and a win for retirees.”

The rule is designed to reduce conflicts of interest for brokers working with 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts by preventing them from inappropriately putting investors into high-fee products that eat away at their retirement savings.

It was introduced in April with strong White House backing. The comment period ends July 21.

Republicans and financial industry critics say the rule would foist significant liability risks and regulatory costs on brokers and potentially force them to abandon investors with modest balances in their retirement accounts.

The Financial Planning Association supports the rule and will talk to lawmakers Wednesday about defeating the rider during its Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. About 60 FPA members will meet with 23 members of Congress.

“I am hopeful [the rider] will be stripped from the final appropriations bill,” said Karen L. Nystrom, the director of advocacy at the FPA.

Even though the congressional committees are voting in favor of the bills, she said that the rider can still be stopped.

“There's a lot of things going on behind the scenes and a lot of maneuvering that I'm not privy to,” Ms. Nystrom said.

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