WASHINGTON -- Women's retirement issues are not going to fade off the radar, even if some of their biggest advocates in Congress lose their seats in this week's elections.
Both Sens. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who championed the cause of pension equity and security for women, are in very tight races and in danger of losing their seats.
What's more, Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly, D-Conn., who also has been active in promoting women's pension issues, is leaving Congress because she is running for governor of that state.
"The underlying issue is powerful enough to drive further consideration," said Frank B. McArdle, manager of the Washington office of Hewitt Associates LLC. "Women form an important constituency," he observed.
Demographics dictate that women's retirement issues will continue to get attention, concurred Lynn D. Dudley, director of retirement policy at the Association of Private Pension and Welfare Plans, a Washington trade group that represents large employers. Moreover, the nation's first summit on national savings, held last June in Washington, highlighted women and minorities as among those groups lacking adequate pension coverage, Ms. Dudley pointed out.
There will also be opportunities for lawmakers to carve out positions on how changes in the Social Security system will affect women as Congress starts debating Social Security reform next year.
And lawmakers are expected to weigh in with ideas on women's retirement issues, as a big package of pension legislation that didn't make any headway this year gets reintroduced, said Ann Combs, a principal in the Washington office of William M. Mercer Inc.
To be sure, none of the three lawmakers had much success with their legislation aimed at closing the retirement gap between men and women. Employer groups defeated the attempts, viewing them as intrusive and costly, and unlikely to do much to help provide women with a more secure retirement.
Last year, Ms. Moseley-Braun and Ms. Kennelly introduced the Comprehensive Women's Pension Protection Act, which would eliminate employers' ability to reduce pension benefits proportionate to the Social Security benefits received by retired workers; require employers to provide for an automatic division of pension benefits in a divorce if the marriage lasted at least five years; and pay survivor benefits to women whose husbands participated in the federal retirement program, but died before they could collect their pensions. The most contentious provision of that legislation, however, was one that would prevent 401(k) plans from lending money or distributing lump sums to married participants without spousal consent.
After that bill failed to make it into the big tax package enacted last year, Ms. Moseley-Braun reintroduced the legislation in June 1998.
Meanwhile, Ms. Boxer introduced the Pension Benefit Fairness Act in January 1997 that would require all defined benefit pension plans to offer joint and survivor annuity options and give detailed information about the various options to participants. She also cosponsored the Moseley-Braun-Kennelly legislation last year.
Among the female members of Congress likely to take up the cause, sources say, are Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., who sits on the powerful House Ways and Means committee and heads its Oversight Subcommittee, and Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., also on the House Ways and Means Committee. In the Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., are among those cited.