Major retirement legislation that would impact tens of millions of Americans and the security of a million-plus union pensioners has hung in the balance since Congress left for summer recess.

Since lawmakers returned to Washington on Sept. 9, what will happen to The SECURE Act, the Butch Lewis Act, and the Retirement Security and Savings Act is still undecided.

The slides that follow take a look at the three bills and offers details on what could hold them up. (Photo: U.S. Capitol, Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)


The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement, or SECURE Act, passed out of the House in May with near unanimity—there were only 3 nay votes to 417 yeas.

“It’s important to note how rarely that type of bipartisanship occurs,” noted Will Hansen, chief government affairs officer for the American Retirement Association.

The SECURE Act is the culmination of several years of work that originated in the Senate Finance Committee in the form of the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

What the SECURE Act would do:

It would create Open Multiple Employer Plans, which would remove the employer commonality requirement to join a pooled retirement plan. This requirement currently remains after the Labor Department issued its final rule on MEPs this week. It would also create a new annuity selection safe harbor for sponsors of 401(k) plans.

Tax credits would be sweetened to encourage more and better retirement plans among small employers. And minimum distribution requirements from qualified plans and age-based contribution limits on IRAs would be amended to account for the nation’s improved mortality rates. (Photo: Senate subway system, Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Chances of passing:

When the House passed the SECURE Act in May, it was widely assumed it would safely pass the Senate, perhaps by unanimous consent, and wind up on President Trump’s desk by, well, now.

But several holds on the legislation, based on non-retirement provisions in the bill and reportedly placed by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have stalled it, leaving its imminent passage in doubt. (Photo: Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Will it pass? Take your pick

Kevin Walsh, a partner with the Groom Law Group, now says the bill could only have a 30 or 40% chance of passage this year.

Other industry insiders remain more hopeful that the SECURE Act will find its way into one of the 12 must-pass appropriations bills scheduled for an end-of-September deadline.

“It’s still probable the Senate will pass the SECURE Act, likely on other spending bills,” said Geoff Manville, principal, government relations at Mercer. (Photo: U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)


Butch Lewis Act

The Butch Lewis Act, or the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, passed the House of Representatives last week by a 264 to 169 vote, with 29 Republican votes, 9 of which were from co-sponsors of the bill.

The bill is named after a Teamster and member of the Central States Pension plan who was a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and grassroots advocate to save the failing pension. (Photo: AP)

What the Butch Lewis Act would do:

It would create a new Pension Rehabilitation Administration in the Treasury Department.

The PRA would channel 30-year loans to upwards of 130 collectively bargained pensions that are headed for imminent insolvency. More than 1 million current retirees and workers stand to lose most of their pensions without a rescue package in place.

The largest of the failing plans is the Central States Plan, which is projected to be insolvent by 2025. When that happens, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., too, will go insolvent. (Photo: Detail of the ceiling of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Chances of passing:

But the bill stands little chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate. Estimates of the bill put it in the $36 billion range, but analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan think tank that advocates for fiscal responsibility, cautions that balloon payments could substantially increase that.

And critics bemoan the bill as a taxpayer bailout that sets a dangerous precedent.

The Butch Lewis Act has been reintroduced in the Senate. (Photo: U.S. Senate Chamber, Architect of the Capitol.)

Retirement Security and Savings Act

This retirement grab-bag bill was reintroduced in the Senate this year by Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., two stalwarts on retirement policy who have a productive track record of advancing bipartisan retirement solutions. (Photo: Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

What the Retirement Security and Savings Act would do:

The bill establishes a new safe harbor plan that would raise the automatic enrollment rate from 3% to 6%, increase the catch-up contribution threshold for baby boomers from $6,000 to $10,000, and allow student loan payments to count toward employers matching contributions in 401(k) plans.

All told, the bill has more than 50 provisions. (Photo: Shutterstock)


Chances of passing:

“It takes a kitchen sink approach,” said Mercer’s Manville of the Retirement Security and Savings Act. “It’s waiting in the wings until Congress can finish the SECURE Act. There’s not much in the bill that’s controversial—Senators Portman and Cardin have said they are open to suggestions." (Photo: Dirksen Senate Office Building, Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

(Related: 12 Best US Cities for Retirement: 2019)

Major retirement legislation that would impact tens of millions of Americans and the security of a million-plus union pensioners hangs in the balance since lawmakers left Washington for summer break.

Now that they’ve returned September 9, the first order of business will be moving 12 spending bills to fund the government for fiscal year 2020 by the end of the month. Ten of the 12 bills have already passed out of the House; in the Senate, committees of jurisdiction have held hearings. There will be a lot of work to get done if the upper chamber is to meet its end-of-fiscal-year deadline to fund the government.

That workload stands to potentially crowd out three retirement bills: The SECURE Act, the Butch Lewis Act, and the Retirement Savings and Security Act, all of which have some level of bipartisan support.

But the chances for any to pass as stand-alone legislation in the near term will likely rely on lawmakers attaching the bills to must-pass appropriations legislation. Read more about the bills and their chances of passing on the slides above.

(Related: 12 Best US Cities for Retirement: 2019)