Requests to consider the SECURE Act via unanimous consent were rejected Thursday, as the sweeping retirement package remains in state of limbo.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., took to the Senate floor and proposed the body consider the Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019, which the House overwhelming approved in May, along with five amendments apiece from Republicans and Democrats. He also proposed setting a 10-hour debate limit on the bill and 30 minutes of debate for each amendment.
Mr. Toomey was one of three Republican senators who placed a hold on the bill in May, preventing its passage via unanimous consent. If no senator were to object to the unanimous consent offering, the bill would have simply passed as is. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah also placed holds on the bill.
The five amendments that Senate Republicans offered as part of Mr. Toomey's request were:
- Fixing a drafting error in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to ensure the full cost of store, office, or building improvements can be immediately expensed, as was originally intended (offered by Mr. Toomey).
- Expanding 529 college savings plans to cover expenses of K-12 students and educational costs for home-schooled students (offered by Mr. Cruz).
- Allowing individuals with terminal illnesses to take out money from their retirement plans early penalty free (offered by Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina).
- Expanding the existing provision in the bill that allows 529s to be used for apprenticeship programs. Currently, the SECURE Act only allows for Department of Labor-recognized apprenticeships (offered by Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana).
- Removing a SECURE Act provision that would provide pension funding relief for community newspapers (offered by Mr. Lee).
"I think we should have a debate, I think we should have a series of votes," Mr. Toomey said on the Senate floor. "I think we could bang this out in a day, at the end of which we would pass the SECURE Act, preferably after considering amendments from both sides."
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., objected, saying the amendments offered are “not in the interest of working families and will kill any chance this bill has of becoming law.”
She then asked Mr. Toomey to modify his request to consider the House version of the bill, to which he declined.
“What we’re hearing from our Democratic colleagues is the Senate is supposed to be a rubber stamp for what the House has done,” Mr. Toomey said. We’re not supposed to consider or deliberate ourselves as a body, we’re not supposed to, apparently, entertain amendments — equal numbers from both sides — to attempt to reflect our constituents’ interest and get to a legislative solution that would inevitably have broad bipartisan support.”
In Thursday’s final exchange with Mr. Toomey, Ms. Murray said that “instead of working to pass this bill in front of us today, some senators are focused on tacking on amendments that don’t help families, and do not make this a better bill. Therefore I object.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a longtime advocate of retirement legislation, took to the Senate floor later Thursday and said it’s time to move forward on the SECURE Act.
“For the past 5 1/2 months some of us have been trying to get this legislation done, and there have been concerns on both sides of the aisle,” Mr. Portman said. “But we’re at a point now where we know ... that we continue to have this stalemate and after 5 1/2 months I think it’s time for us to move forward with these reforms.”
The SECURE Act features wide-ranging provisions, including ones that make it easier for smaller employers to join open multiple employer plans, ease non-discrimination rules for frozen defined benefit plans and add a safe harbor for selecting lifetime income providers in defined contribution plans. It also increases the automatic-enrollment safe harbor cap to 15% from 10%.
The bill's path forward remains unclear.