After months of uncertainty, it looks like a sweeping retirement security package will soon become law.
The Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019, referred to as the SECURE Act, was attached Monday to a fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill that must pass by Friday. The package of spending bills will be voted on in the House Tuesday, then head to the Senate and ultimately the president's desk for his signature this week.
"We have a first down and goal on the one-yard line," said Wayne Chopus, president and CEO of the Insured Retirement Institute, in a statement. "Congress and the president are about to deliver a meaningful, positive benefit to millions of American workers by expanding opportunities to save for and achieve a dignified retirement."
Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers, said in a statement that the SECURE Act is the most sweeping retirement security legislation to move through Congress in more than a decade. "We applaud House and Senate leadership for their determination to pass this important legislation," Ms. Neely said. "By doing so, members of Congress can demonstrate bipartisan leadership in addressing critical needs of everyday Americans."
Proponents of the SECURE Act have been publicly and privately asking lawmakers to pass the bill, either via unanimous consent or limited floor time in the Senate, or attach it to a piece of must-pass legislation.
The SECURE Act overwhelmingly passed in the House — 417-3 — in May but has remained in a state of limbo in the Senate ever since. Three Republican senators — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah — placed holds on the bill for varying reasons, blocking its passage via unanimous consent.
In November, Mr. Toomey proposed that the Senate consider the bill via unanimous consent along with five amendments apiece from Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., objected, insisting on voting on the House-passed version of the bill, and the attempt failed.
The SECURE Act was not attached to continuing resolutions that kept the government funded in September or November, diminishing supporters' hope the bill would become law.
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%.
Geoffrey Manville, principal of government relations at Mercer, said the bill is "an important bipartisan step forward on retirement security. It builds on the success of the employer system by making it easier for plan sponsors to continue offering plans and for firms without plans to adopt them."
Also attached to one of the appropriations bills was the Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019, which would transfer funds from the Interior Department's Abandoned Mine Land fund to help cover the pension benefit obligations of the United Mine Workers of America 1974 Pension Plan, Washington, and health-care benefits.