Since the start of the 116th Congress, the headlines out of Washington have mostly concentrated on shutdowns and investigations, but legislators in both chambers have also made retirement issues a focus, and industry sources are optimistic major legislation on that front will be passed.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., held a hearing earlier this month on retirement security where issues like Social Security solvency, the trouble certain multiemployer pension plans face and the success of Oregon's state-based automatic IRA program were front and center. A longtime proponent of enhancing workers' retirement preparedness, Mr. Neal said the Feb. 6 hearing will be the "first of many conversations on this issue."
With Mr. Neal at the helm of the Ways and Means Committee, retirement-related issues will get a lot of attention, said Kent Mason, a partner with Davis & Harman LLP in Washington, who represents numerous plan sponsors and service providers.
"I think it sets a good tone for this year for activity in retirement, setting the stage for this to be an important issue for Chairman Neal," Mr. Mason said.
The same day as the hearing, Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., reintroduced the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act in the House.
Among other provisions, the bill would make it easier for smaller employers to join open multiple employer plans, ease non-discrimi- nation rules for frozen defined benefit plans and add a safe harbor for selecting lifetime income providers in defined contribution plans.
RESA drew bipartisan support when it was introduced in both congressional chambers last session, but it never ultimately passed.
In testimony before the Ways and Means Committee, Roger Crandall, chairman, president and CEO of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., urged lawmakers to pass RESA. He is in favor of RESA's open MEPs provision, its expansion of employer tax incentives designed to help offset the costs associated with establishing a new workplace retirement plan, and its provisions designed to simplify and streamline plan administration.
Specifically, Mr. Crandall told the committee it's time to make open MEPs a reality. "For too long, unrelated employers have unnecessarily been prevented from joining together to offer important retirement benefits to their employees," he said. "This barrier to expanded access to workplace retirement plans unfortunately persists despite bipartisan support for open MEPs in both houses of Congress and support across Democratic and Republican administrations in the White House."