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Retirement bill remains stalled amid Republican holds in Senate

Finance Committee chairman says as many as six GOP senators have issues with the bill ‘for different reasons’

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said the retirement savings bill, which has been worked on over the past three Congresses, “should have passed eons ago. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said the retirement savings bill, which has been worked on over the past three Congresses, “should have passed eons ago. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A handful of Republican senators are holding up what could be the biggest retirement savings bill in more than a decade.

After sailing through the House on a 417-3 vote May 23 before the weeklong Memorial Day recess, supporters hoped the legislation would garner unanimous consent for quick passage in the Senate the following day. But senatorial holds accumulated and continue to stall the measure.

[Retirement savings bill seeks small business buy-in]

“Perhaps as many as six, with different reasons for doing it,” Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Monday about the number of objections. “So we have to go around to each one of the six and find out what the problem is.”

Grassley believes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, would not devote floor time to a bill that passed the House with such a lopsided vote, not to mention its close similarity to a bill that Grassley, Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and former Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatchhave worked on for the past three Congresses.

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“I would think working on this bill through three Congresses, that people would feel that it’s time to get the job done,” Grassley said.

The marquee provisions in the House bill, estimated to cost $16.8 billion over 10 years, include providing tax credits and removing barriers for small businesses to offer retirement plans and boosting the minimum age for required distributions from savings plans from 70½ to 72 years old.

A section expanding the uses for 529 education savings plans to include expenses for home schooling and private and religious K-12 schools delayed the measure in the House and was eventually dropped by House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Massachusetts, the bill’s author, after what he described as opposition from a “substantial” number of House Democrats.

Scrapping those provisions drew loud complaints from Republicans, who nonetheless voted for the bill in droves after it was sweetened with a provision repealing an unintended tax increase that hits lower-income children — including death benefits paid out to Gold Star families where a parent was killed in the line of duty.

With more than two dozen provisions, Neal praised his bill as the biggest retirement savings bill since the 2006 pension overhaul .

Senate Democrats said none of their members object to the House bill.

“This bill should have passed eons ago,” Wyden said, adding he’s seen “no evidence” of any Democrat opposing the measure. Wyden is the co-sponsor with Grassley of similar legislation and was co-sponsor with Hatch on a similar bill in the 115th Congress.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Maryland, said he also has not heard of any Democrats opposing the legislation. The only senators Cardin says he has heard who were objecting to the unanimous consent effort are Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pennsylvania. Neither Cruz’s nor Toomey’s offices responded to requests for comment.

Cardin, along with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has authored an even larger retirement savings bill that Grassley says is in the queue waiting for the first piece of legislation to move.

The Portman-Cardin bill has more than 50 provisions, including a popular measure that would allow student loan payments to be counted as contributions for the purpose of computing the employer match to defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans.

Grassley said he needs to “individually” work through what each of the senators placing holds on the initial bill wants.

“A lot of people that are putting on holds are going to have to realize, do they want what’s good even though it may not be a perfect bill from their standpoint, or no bill at all,” he said.

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