Pension lobbyists fear their exuberance over the recent passage of favorable tax legislation may be tempered.
Casting a long shadow on their celebration are concerns that Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., will reintroduce this fall a proposal requiring employees to get written consent from their spouses before they can dip into their 401(k) retirement plans. Ms. Moseley-Braun's provision made it into the Senate version of the tax package, but was knocked out after furious lobbying from a coalition of pension trade groups.
While Ms. Moseley-Braun and some consumer activists maintain that the provision would protect women's share of family retirement savings, groups representing corporate employers argue that the provision could make it harder for working women to gain access to their own retirement dollars.
Moreover, they contend, the provision could interfere with pension plan sponsors' efforts to administer their retirement plans electronically, by forcing them to rely on tedious paperwork to process loans and withdrawals. Opponents say the provision could conflict with state laws governing marital disputes.
"Spousal consent is particularly important because it is a much more complicated provision to apply to defined benefit plans," said Lynn D. Dudley, director of retirement policy at the Washington-based Association of Private Pension and Welfare Plans.
The APPWP, along with the ERISA Industry Committee, another Washington trade group, had led the fight against the provision.
Ms. Dudley expects Congress will revisit the issue as early as this month through a series of hearings, and expects Ms. Moseley-Braun to "try very hard to attach it to an appropriations bill."
She also worries that the provision will open the door for lawmakers to bring up other related "pension equity" issues ensuring, for example, that women get their fair share of pensions in divorces and when their spouses die.
More troublesome to Ms. Dudley is the issue of Social Security integration, in which employers adjust pensions to take into account Social Security payments because they have already contributed to Social Security through the payroll tax.
But Ms. Dudley doesn't expect lawmakers to take up the issue until next year.
Social Security integration, she said, is not a means by which employees try to prevent low-paid workers from receiving pensions, but a means of recouping some of their Social Security payroll taxes, since rank-and-file employees receive a bigger chunk of retirement benefits from Social Security than from pensions.
On a related matter, Ms. Dudley also expects legislators will push for participants - and spouses - to get greater disclosure of employer-sponsored pension benefits.