Budget agreement leaves SECURE Act by wayside

Senate vote on retirement-savings measure not likely this month, so supporters ready push for fall

Jul 23, 2019 @ 2:18 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

When congressional leaders and President Donald J. Trump reached a budget agreement Monday, they closed it off to additional measures, including a landmark retirement-savings bill that is stalled in the Senate.

Backers of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act were hoping to get it folded into the $2.7 trillion spending pact, which suspends the debt limit until July 2021, but came up short.

"It was not for lack of trying on our behalf," said Chris Spence, senior director of federal government relations at TIAA.

The SECURE Act, which would bring about the biggest changes in retirement policy in a decade, would provide legal protections for employers to include annuities in retirement plans, make it easier for small businesses to band together to offer plans, and increase the age for required minimum distributions from 70½ to 72, among other provisions. It was approved 417-3 by the House.

Several senators, including Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., are objecting to the bill for policy reasons unrelated to its retirement provisions. That's preventing the bill from being passed quickly by unanimous consent. Spokespeople for Mr. Cruz and Mr. Toomey weren't immediately available for comment.

Getting time for a full debate on the Senate floor looks unlikely before the chamber departs next week for its summer recess.

"We're not going to see floor time before August," Mr. Spence said. "We need to come together and regroup to figure out what can be done in September to move this forward."

Paul Richman, chief government and political affairs officer at the Insured Retirement Institute, hopes that the SECURE Act will be included in appropriations legislation that must be approved this fall to avoid a government shutdown.

One of the points of the budget agreement says no policy changes can be included in government-agency spending bills unless they're approved by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority-party leaders in each chamber and Mr. Trump.

"All have said they have no issues with the SECURE Act," Mr. Richman said. "We continue to remain optimistic that the leadership of Congress and the president see the value of enacting this into law sooner rather than later."

When the insurance lobby kicked off its campaign to get SECURE approved, they said doing so before August was critical. As the presidential election year gets closer, legislative activity on Capitol Hill is likely to slow.

But SECURE proponents are taking setbacks in stride.

"The bill is a very positive force," Mr. Spence said. "It's not a policy issue. We're getting caught up in the politics of it. It's got to be a matter of time before it breaks loose and gets over the finish line."

In the meantime, the lobbying continues. On Tuesday, the American Retirement Association released research showing the retirement-savings gap on a state-by-state basis and asserted the SECURE Act would address the 28.3 million Americans who do not have access to a workplace retirement plan.

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