Retirement-savings bill draws broad support, optimism for passage this year

Industry groups and investor advocates alike seek enactment of the measure that increases workplace plans, eases annuity inclusion

Mar 30, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Supporters of legislation designed to increase retirement savings are hopeful the measure will be approved by Congress later this year, despite being left out of a recent spending bill.

The Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act of 2018 was introduced in the Senate in early March with the goal of attaching it to the omnibus fiscal 2018 appropriations bill, which wound up being the vehicle for several non-spending items, including a bill on business development companies.

But House lawmakers were reluctant to insert RESA into the spending package because it had not gone through the legislative process in that chamber. A House version of the bill, written by Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., was introduced March 14 and has 22 bipartisan co-sponsors.

"We were pleased that the omnibus process elevated the attention of the bill on the House side," said Lee Covington, senior vice president and general counsel at the Insured Retirement Institute. "The effort has been helpful in terms of generating interest and support."

The House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education and Workforce Committee each have jurisdiction over parts of the bill, which encourages employers to offer retirement plans and clarifies rules surrounding them.

The legislative path in the House is longer than in the Senate, where the measure has a head start. The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved RESA in December 2016. But it died at the end of that year and had to be re-introduced earlier this month by Senate Finance chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the panel's ranking member, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

"Given that there is broad bipartisan support, we see a reasonable chance that the bill could be enacted this year," said Derek Dorn, managing director of public policy at TIAA.

The difficulty will be finding a way to get it to the president's desk. The omnibus spending bill was seen as the last must-pass legislation of this Congress. Supporters hope it can be attached to another bill or advance as stand-alone legislation.

"We remain optimistic that we can move this bill," Mr. Covington said.

One of the factors giving the measure momentum is the fact that financial industry trade associations, such as IRI and the American Council of Life Insurers, and consumer advocates, such as AARP, are behind it.

AARP's concern about a provision of the 2016 bill that would make it easier for employers to include annuities in their retirement plans was eased when this year's version tweaked that area.

Under this year's measure, employers are given protections when determining the financial viability of annuities, but they still must meet existing rules when choosing a provider.

"We are pleased that RESA has been amended to make clear that the safe harbor is limited to determining the solvency of the selected insurer, and in no way changes the longstanding [federal retirement law] fiduciary requirements for prudent selection of an appropriate annuity product," Joyce Rogers, AARP senior vice president for government affairs, wrote in a March 6 letter to Mr. Hatch and Mr. Wyden.

The united advocacy front is helpful for lobbying Capitol Hill.

"RESA represents a commonsense, bipartisan path forward for a lot of challenges related to retirement coverage and savings adequacy," Mr. Dorn said. "These are provisions around which the financial services community has also developed broad support."

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