Congress finished up the June work period last week after enacting key elements of President Obama’s trade agenda. Congress will now focus in the July work period on extending the charter for the Export-Import Bank, which expires on June 30 2015, and providing funding for federal highway programs, which expire on July 31 2015, before leaving town for the August recess.
On June 24 2015, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee approved the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act (S. 1647) which authorizes $275 billion of spending on federal highways over the next six years ($43 billion per year). Given the cost of this bill, it is unlikely that Congress will find a way to pay for this measure in a month. The more likely scenario is that Congress passes legislation that funds federal highway programs either through the end of 2015 or sometime into 2016. The cost to finance these highway programs through the end of 2015 is more than $10 billion and it remains to be seen how Congress will pay for even that modest of an extension. The ARA GAC team is closely monitoring this debate and is expressing deep opposition to using retirement policy budget gimmicks, like PBGC premium increases, to offset the cost of yet another transportation bill.
Federal Government Spending
An increasingly bitter dispute has developed between Congressional Democrats and Republicans over funding levels for federal government operations in fiscal year 2016. Republicans want to maintain funding levels at so-called “sequestration” levels while Democrats want to bust those caps. Democrats in the Senate have promised to block any federal spending bills that adhere to those caps, which has ground the consideration of appropriations bills in the Senate to a halt. An agreement on federal spending for the next fiscal year must be reached by September 30 2015 or the federal government will shut down.
On June 4 2015, Congressmen Jared Polis (D-CO, 2nd), Phil Roe (R-TN, 1st), Ron Kind (D-WI, 3rd), and Mike Kelly (R-PA, 3rd) introduced the Receiving Electronic Statements to Improve Retiree Earnings (RETIRE) Act (H.R. 2656). The bill, endorsed by the American Retirement Association, allows for the extensive ERISA disclosure requirements to be furnished electronically to retirement plan participants. The bill also includes strong protections for individuals that still wish to receive information about their retirement benefits on paper. The ARA GAC team is expects that similar legislation will be introduced in the Senate in the coming months, either as a standalone bill, or as part of a more comprehensive retirement policy package.