Both presidential candidates support creating a national retirement commission to address the nation's retirement funding problems. But they sidestep such issues as raising taxes to rescue Social Security and allowing Social Security assets to be invested in equities.
Those are the highlights of responses to nine questions posed to President Clinton and Republican challenger Robert Dole by 10 employee benefit groups.
The responses diverged slightly on whether pension funds should invest with a goal of helping small businesses.
President Clinton showed more enthusiasm for that point, citing an interpretive bulletin on the issue released in 1995 by the Department of Labor.
"The Clinton administration has assured pension fund managers that in developing investment strategies for the funds they manage, they may consider benefits, such as helping small business, when selecting from otherwise equally attractive investment alternatives," President Clinton's response statement said.
Mr. Dole stressed the need for pension funds to focus on meeting "the diversity of prudence requirements of the law" and "providing a sufficient return on investment."
"I oppose measures that would encourage investment of pension funds for social programs, including measures to support small businesses that are not yet healthy," Mr. Dole said in his response.
And although both favor general pension simplification, they declined to address specific proposals in a question submitted by the Small Business Council of America.
Both candidates pointed to their respective roles in passing pension simplification measures as part of the Small Business Job Protection Act, which was developed and introduced by Mr. Dole, and eventually signed by President Clinton.
Regarding a retirement commission, Mr. Dole said a "commission might be the best way to develop a coherent policy."
He supports "the need for a comprehensive retirement income policy that examines the roles of government, employers, and the individuals in securing a financial secure retirement for all individuals."
President Clinton's support for a commission is less strong. "The best way to address the long-term financing challenges facing Social Security .*.*. is to rely on a bipartisan commission or process that shares the strengths of the 1983 Social Security Commission. Details on timing or form or process are all issues that would have to be discussed and considered after wide consultation and review," according to his response.
In addition, President Clinton's response to a question on scaling back regulation said his administration has eliminated 16,000 pages of unnecessary federal regulations and also has taken steps such as shortening the process for seeking approval of potentially prohibited transactions.
Mr. Dole, though, pointed out Congress needs to pass laws that are "*'right from the start' and don't need constant tinkering." Lawmakers need to avoid the dual temptations of solving legislative stalemates on policy by deferring to Internal Revenue Service regulation, and of viewing retirement plans as a source of funds for other government programs, Mr. Dole's response said.
Regarding a question asking for the candidates' opinions on the future of the private pension system, Mr. Dole said it is important to remember private pension plans are voluntary.
"If the government imposes 'unfunded mandates' on retirement plans to enhance its own social agenda, employers will resist setting up or continuing these plans," Mr. Dole's response said.
President Clinton's response was more general, underlining his commitment to strengthening the private pensions system and achieving pension simplification.
President Clinton's response said he is encouraging Congress to enact some provisions of his Retirement Savings and Security Act that would expand individual retirement accounts, simplify rules for multiemployer plans and eliminate the need for summary plan description filing requirements.
The questions were submitted to the two presidential campaigns by the Pension Forum, the Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, the American Academy of Actuaries, the American Society of Pension Actuaries, the National Institute of Pension Administrators, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Women Business Owners, the National Association for the Self-Employed, the New York State Bar Association's Special Committee on Pension Simplification and the Small Business Council of America.
The questions were:
Will you lend your influence, power and prestige as president to establishing, in cooperation with the Congress, a national pension commission of nationally respected persons for the express purposes of (1) developing a national retirement income policy before the year 2000, (2) overhauling the pension laws from stem to stern, and (3) providing strict guidelines for the revamping of the present regulations?
Do you support the need for a comprehensive retirement income policy? Would you make it a priority to create a commission to develop a national retirement income policy for approval by Congress and the White House? And what financial measures would you enact today to ensure a stable and healthy retirement program for today's children?
Self-employed Americans are currently double-taxed on Social Security (paying 15.3%, the combined employer and the employee share). They are therefore particularly concerned about proposals to resolve the looming Social Security fiscal crisis by further increasing taxes. What steps would you take to address this coming crisis? Would you favor some means of investing a portion of Social Security taxes in stocks and other equities, so that the retirement value of Social Security could grow without raising taxes?
What are your suggestions for making government more responsible for (a) constant flow of confusing and often conflicting governmental advice?
If elected/re-elected, would your administration support the goal of pension simplification during your term?
What is your opinion of the voluntary employer-sponsored retirement system and what do you envision for the system as we approach the 21st century? Would your administration take a leadership role in working with Congress to simplify the laws governing defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans, and if so, what reform measures would you propose? Would your administration push to ease the current regulatory burdens under which retirement plans operate, and if so, what changes would you propose?
Women business owners employ more people than the Fortune 500. Thus, the retirement plans offered by these women business owners have a significant effect on the lives of a great number of families. Unfortunately, complex federal regulations make it impossible for these owners to implement and maintain the retirement plans that they would like to offer. Will your administration assist business owners through: a) simplification of recent federal regulations and written clarification of the regulations; and b) incentive tax credits to help offset the expense of starting a qualified retirement plan?
If elected president, would you continue to reform the pension system by rolling back unnecessary burdens and bringing back needed incentives? If yes, which of the following (any or all) steps would you take to accomplish this reform? The 15% excise tax should be repealed; compensation limits and Section 415 limits should be restored to their prior levels; the full funding limitation should be repealed; the term "key employee" should be replaced with the term "highly compensated employee"; retirement plan assets should not be subject to the confiscatory estate tax; and Sub-S corporations should be allowed to sponsor ESOPs.
Do you support policies to realize pension fund investments in small business, and if so, what rules would you implement to achieve the recommendations of the White House conference on small business relating to pension fund investment?