U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. October 9, 2016. (Photo: Mike Scarcella/ALM)

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, will likely become chairman of the powerful tax-writing committee if the House changes to Democratic majority in the midterm elections, a panel of legislative experts agreed Tuesday.

“It’s a safe bet” that Neal takes the reins from current chair Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, Kara Getz, senior counsel for the Ways and Means Committee, said during a panel discussion at the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries annual conference in National Harbor, Md., just outside Washington.

“Retirement is one of Neal’s biggest priorities,” Getz said. “If he becomes chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, retirement will be his No. 1 priority, which is very unique.”

Retirement “isn’t the sexiest issue on the Hill,” she continued, but Neal “passionately believes in this topic.”

Neal “believes in the retirement system, he thinks it’s working really well, and he’d like to improve upon it” by addressing the coverage gap, Getz said.

While the auto-IRA idea has been out there for 10 years, she said, “a lot of states have moved forward with them” in lieu of federal action. “Ideally because I think there is this patchwork potentially going forward – all these slightly different auto IRAs – I think it makes sense to have a federal solution.”

This Congress, Neal wanted “to take the next step” with a new idea around his auto 401(k) bill, H.R. 4523, the Automatic Retirement Plan Act of 2017, which was introduced last year. “With this bill, instead of IRAs, it’s a 401(k) plan.”

Getz added that Neal is also considering “incorporating the auto-IRA concept into the auto-401(k), so it will be a very different bill when we see it [reintroduced] in January.”

The next Congress may also bring a “RESA 2.0,” bill Getz said.

If the bipartisan Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act, or RESA, “passes or it doesn’t pass, I think there will be an opportunity in the next Congress to do what I refer to as ‘RESA 2.0’” that could incorporate some of Neal’s Retirement Enhancement Simplification Act.