National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors

Senate Tries—and Fails—Again to Enact SECURE Act—

On November 7, the Senate again tried to pass H.R.1994, the SECURE Act, by unanimous consent (UC). Again, objections (largely unrelated to the legislation itself) were heard, thus preventing enactment. A letter from 51 NAIFA members from each State and the District of Columbia, representing a wide range of metropolitan and rural areas and businesses large and small, went to Senate leadership, urging enactment. And NAIFA signed on to a multi-industry letter to Senators asking them to enact the bill.
 
The UC effort started with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) proposing that the Senate debate ten amendments—five each from Republicans and Democrats and each limited to 30 minutes of debate—to the SECURE Act, and then vote on the bill as amended (or not). Democrats—led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)—noted that the SECURE Act “as is” enjoys wide bipartisan support and that amendments—almost all of which were unrelated to the bill—could unravel that support. She suggested that instead, the Senate pass H.R.1994 by UC, without amendment. Sen. Toomey objected to that counter-suggestion, and so Sen. Murray objected to the Toomey UC request to debate ten amendments to the bill. The result is that the Senate again failed to act on the SECURE Act.
 
Lobbying to get SECURE passed is fierce. NAIFA, other insurance organizations, retirement savings organizations, and employers sponsoring (or wanting to sponsor) retirement plans have banned together to win support for the measure. In addition to ongoing meetings on Capitol Hill and with lawmakers back home, NAIFA’s lobbying included:
 
  • On November 7, 51 NAIFA members wrote to Senators asking them to vote for the bill, explaining its importance to expanding retirement savings opportunities for small and large employers. The NAIFA members who signed the letter come from all 50 States and the District of Columbia and represent big and small businesses as well as mainstream America clients.
 
  • On November 5, a group of 91 businesses, retirement and insurance trade associations, and employer and community groups wrote to Senate leadership asking for action on the SECURE Act. NAIFA was among the signatories on this letter. The letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), asked that the Senate leaders “make the SECURE Act a top legislative priority and encourage quick action to pass this important bill this year.”
The letter said, “"While we wait for passage of the SECURE Act, low- and middle-income Americans struggle to save for retirement and military survivors face significant tax repercussions. If the SECURE Act is not signed into law, more than 700,000 small business workers will not save for retirement at work, more than 4 million workers in private-sector pension plans will be at risk of losing future benefits, 1,400 religiously affiliated organizations will be at risk of losing access to their defined contribution retirement plans, and more than 18,000 children and spouses of fallen service members will continue to be economically disadvantaged by unfair taxation on their survivor benefits." (The last point refers to the politically-sensitive provision in the bill that corrects a mistake in the tax reform law enacted late in 2017 that increases taxes on survivor benefits of military personnel killed in action—the “gold star” provision.)
 
There is internal (to the Senate) lobbying on the issue, too. On October 16, seven Republican Senators –Tim Scott (SC), Rob Portman (OH), Thom Tillis (NC), Joni Ernst (IA), Marth McSally (AZ), Susan Collins (ME) and Cory Gardner (CO)—also wrote to Sen. McConnell to urge prompt action on the SECURE Act.
 
Almost all Senators support the quick enactment of SECURE, but three have objected to repeated UC requests for several unrelated reasons. Sen. Toomey wants to debate the bill and amendments to it; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wants a provision expanding eligibility for section 529 education accounts to homeschooling, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) wants to drop a provision in the bill that deals with community newspaper pension plans. The House passed the bill last May, by a near-unanimous 417 to 3 vote.
 
Prospects: Sen. McConnell has said both publicly and in private that the Senate will pass the SECURE Act, and so the hunt for a legislative vehicle to which it can be attached continues. Most Hill insiders think the most likely such vehicle is government funding legislation—but that legislation is currently stuck in legislative limbo, and probably will remain so until at least mid-December (and maybe longer). It is possible, although not likely, that the SECURE Act could be attached to a trade bill (which may or may not get through the legislative process by year-end), or to a health reform bill, which looks increasingly unlikely to move before 2020. There is also new talk about a stand-alone tax bill (extenders and fixes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)) to which the SECURE Act could be attached, but that effort also has uncertain prospects.
 
Bottom line is that prospects for enacting SECURE remain good, but the timing of its enactment is frustratingly elusive. We’ll keep you posted.
 
NAIFA Staff Contacts: Diane Boyle, Senior Vice President – Government Relations at DBoyle@naifa.org; or Judi Carsrud, Assistant Vice President – Government Relations at jcarsrud@naifa.org
  • Posted November 15, 2019 IN