Most policy-makers in Washington suffer from a growing inability to comprehend the complexity of pension regulations. They cannot see how pension laws and rules have become increasingly complex year after year. Their inability, to borrow a critic's remark on a different issue, is like snowblindness; it comes from staring too long at too many pages of regulations.
President Clinton now has put on sunglasses, so to speak, and cut through the blinding glare to see a need to simplify the retirement plans for small businesses, where pension coverage is especially low and many companies do not sponsor pension programs.
He deserves commendation for his proposal.
But what took the president so long to wake up?
He's more than halfway through his term of office. Besides, what about doing some regulatory-cutting for large-employer plans, too, where traditional pension plans are being cut back?
In describing his new small-business pension proposal, Mr. Clinton remarked, "The pension laws enacted over the last 20 years with the best intentions are now so utterly complicated that you need a SWAT team of lawyers and accountants to help you fill out the forms and comply with the rules."
As one of our Washington-based reporters remarked, with tough, direct views like that, Mr. Clinton might have kept a Democratic-controlled Congress last November, averting the Republican election victory.
Certainly, such proposals like his recently unveiled 10-year deficit-reduction plan, as well as his new small-business pension incentive would have been in keeping with the mood of the electorate.
For pensions, the president proposes to simplify forms and filing for small business, the keystone of the American economy.
Also, he proposes the elimination of "family aggregation rules" that penalizes each member of a business owner's family who works in the company. The current law is a drag on family business, an important component in the economy.
In addition, Mr. Clinton proposed streamlined individual retirement account plans for companies with fewer than 100 workers. It would exempt from complex regulations employers who make meaningful contributions to the IRA.
The president's proposal represents a stitch when a wholesale retailoring of the private pension system is in order.
His small-business pension proposals will do nothing to stem the tide of pension plan closings and falling pension contributions of larger companies.
His interest in building pension plan coverage would seem more credible if he had coupled his small-business proposal with ideas for proposals for midsized and large companies.
Even so, Congress ought to adopt quickly the best features of the Clinton proposals. To do otherwise would risk becoming obstructionists.
Ideally, the entire pension system needs an overhaul. Realistically, that sort of restructuring would not happen soon.
So the president ought to throw some weight in lobbying hard for small-business pensions. It's a measure that can succeed in being enacted without undue debate over Washington's concern over purported revenue loss from the tax-favored treatment of pension plans.