Politicians: Improve It, Don’t Eliminate It!

Politicians: Improve It, Don’t Eliminate It!

Suppose you have a hot water heater in your home that works only intermittently.  You go to your local Home Depot only to find that they won’t have a replacement model available for six months.  Would you wait until the replacement is available before removing the old unit, or would you immediately yank the defective water heater out of your garage and live without hot water for half a year?

OK, maybe this isn’t totally realistic.  I suppose even if you live in the middle of Alaska you can get hot water heaters in less time than that.  And yet our federal government seems bent on the latter path: taking away stuff that works, albeit perhaps not perfectly, and without providing a replacement.

I refer in this case not to the Republicans’ touted plan to eliminate Obamacare before coming up with an alternative.  Rather, this is about the vote last week in the House (along party lines) to block states from implementing savings plans for private-sector workers whose employers do not offer a 401(k) plan.

Some background:  Currently seven states — California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Oregon, Washington and Illinois — are in the process of implementing state-sponsored retirement savings plans, while 23 others have considered doing so.  In California, the plan is called Secure Choice, and it would enable the approximately 6.8 million employees that do not have access to a 401(k) or pension to automatically contribute between 3% and 10% of their earnings to an individual retirement account.  The investments would be managed by a third party financial services company overseen by the state treasurer’s office.  What made the development of such state programs possible were changes to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) rules implemented last year governing automatic-enrollment and payroll deductions.

Why would House Republicans object to making it easier for workers to save for retirement?  After all, according to the San Jose Mercury News, a survey by the Pew Charitable Trust last year found that 86% of small businesses that don’t offer retirement benefits were “strongly” or “somewhat” in favor of the idea.  And there’s no dispute that a significant number of Americans are financially unprepared for retirement, especially with Social Security providing less than 50% of the financial support needed by the majority of retirees.

Tim Walberg, R-Mich., the chairman of the House subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pension, and the proponent of the bill to block the states’ plans, explains his objections this way (as quoted by the Arizona Republic):  “Our nation faces difficult retirement challenges, but more government isn’t the solution.  A better way is to reduce costly red tape and make it easier for small businesses to band together to offer retirement plans for their employees.”  He also asserted that state-led programs would offer workers fewer protections as compared to those regulated by the DOL.  Jerry Brown accused the Republicans of supporting Wall Street financial institutions – who stand to benefit if these savings flow into their coffers – instead of taxpayers.

I am not posting this blog to weigh in on the merits of or problems with Secure Choice.  But I will say this:  it may indeed be flawed, but on the other hand it will certainly benefit millions of Californians.  Before blocking it, wouldn’t it make more sense to come up with a better alternative first?  Who wants to be without hot water for six months … or longer?

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