All eyes have turned to the Senate to pass a retirement security package after the House approved a bill on May 23 in a 417-3 vote.
The Senate had a bill similar in scope to the House's Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019, referred to as the SECURE Act. Many in the retirement community thought the Senate would try to pass its own bill, the Retirement Enhancement Savings Act, and bridge any gaps between the two bills in conference.
But shortly after the House vote, Senate leaders decided to forgo passing RESA and "hotlined" the SECURE Act in an attempt to move it via unanimous consent.
"It was a bit of a surprise that they decided to take up the SECURE Act, mostly that they decided to take it up so quickly," said Christopher Spence, senior director of federal government relations for TIAA-CREF in Washington. Likely, he added, Senate leaders saw the landslide vote in favor of the SECURE Act and decided it made sense to move on it directly.
If no senator were to object to the unanimous consent offering, the bill would simply pass as is. However, sources said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and likely others, placed a hold on the bill, objecting to the removal in the House version of provisions that would have allowed funds in 529 college savings plans to be used for home schooling costs and supplies for K-12 students, among other objections.
As of now, the bill remains in limbo as Senate leaders try to quell the objections. Since holds can be placed anonymously, sources said it's difficult to tell how many senators are blocking the bill and what their concerns are.
Mr. Cruz's office did not respond to a request for comment.
While supporters of the SECURE Act are still confident it will pass, concerns are growing with each passing day.
"My hope is they do this sooner rather than later because as we've seen in the past, the provisions in the SECURE Act are not new; they've been around for the past couple of years" in previously introduced bills, said Srinivas D. Reddy, senior vice president of retirement and income solutions at Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, Iowa, and chairman of the ERISA Advisory Council. "The longer it takes ... the more the likelihood it doesn't pass."
Mr. Spence said the retirement community would prefer the Senate pass the bill via unanimous consent as soon as possible.
"The longer it hangs out there, the more uncertain and nervous it's going to make everyone,” he said.
If the unanimous consent route doesn't work, the Senate may attach the bill to a piece of must-pass legislation, like a spending bill, in the fall, said Kent Mason, a partner with law firm Davis & Harman LLP in Washington. However, he noted that going through “regular order” to pass the bill would take much longer, which is why Senate leadership is trying to pass it via unanimous consent.