With campaign season and midterm elections fast approaching, the window for accomplishing anything substantive on Capitol Hill for the financial services industry is rapidly closing.
And if predictions for a power shift in the House or Senate are correct, the likelihood of congressional stalemate for the next two years will increase.
Still, there are glimmers of positive signs. In a recent webinar produced by InsuranceNewsNet, the senior vice president for government relations at the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors said there’s hope Congress will adopt some enhanced retirement savings legislation, as well as changes to capital and unrealized gains, wealth taxes, and new estate and trust rules that are included in President Joe Biden’s proposed budget.
“Even if the Republicans take the majority in both the House and the Senate, I'm not sure that we end up with complete gridlock,” said NAIFA’s Diane Boyle. “I think that we do see some changes in how the administration works with the Congress, depending on what those numbers are. But I think folks look at this year as the time and best chance to get something done.”
Most likely to win bipartisan passage is legislation called the Securing Strong Retirement Act of 2022, which would make some major changes in how 401(k) accounts are administered for full-time and part-time employees. Known as SECURE 2.0, it could also change how employers manage employee contributions for student loans.
“There's a lot in SECURE 2.0 that is really encouraging for financial advisors who are talking to clients and are trying to get people to save for retirement,” Boyle said. “It gives them enhanced benefits and new opportunities.”
The act, which has already passed the House by a wide margin (only five members voted against it), would, among other things, include 401(k) auto enrollment provisions, participation for part-time employees, student loan payment matches and increased requirements for employer contributions.
“I think we’re going to see the same level of support in the Senate,” Boyle said. “We’ve heard conversations around the need for enhanced retirement savings. How can we get more people to focus on retirement savings and planning and putting together a plan for when you reach retirement? How do you get there? How do you start? And this legislation would enable that and so I think when we move to the Senate, we're going to see that same level of excitement.”
Still, Boyle predicted that full passage won’t occur until the end of the year.
Tax Increases Proposed
After SECURE 2.0, there is a “laundry list” of other proposals that will impact the financial services industry in the Biden budget, from a wealth tax and unrealized gains taxes, to capital gains taxes, and changes to state and trust rules.
“There are a trillion-plus dollars of tax increases that as Congress is trying to push legislation forward. This is what they’re going to pull from because they know the administration supports it,” Boyle said. “So it gives them a good shopping list for revenue raisers.”
Not all those proposals will survive congressional review, though, Boyle said.
“Which of the items moves forward depends on what it’s tied to,” she said.
The most likely proposal to rise from the heap, she said, would be an increased tax rate for individuals making more than $400,000 a year.
“That’s where the administration has said it wants to go,” Boyle said. “I'm not sure about my crystal ball on that one. It is a little cloudy, if you had to say which one is going to move then it depends on the players.”
Boyle said a wealth tax proposal is an easy sound bite for lawmakers and even some of the more conservative Democrats have voiced tepid support for taxing the rich.
Despite the uncertainty of what Congress eventually will do, Boyle recommended advisors have conversations with clients about different scenarios if and when changes are approved. This especially pertains to estate planners.
“If you're working with clients who are doing estate planning, now may be the time to have those conversations,” she said. “Let clients know what's being considered and make your best guess in light of the fact there could be changes coming. Even if there’s some uncertainty, having those conversations is always a good thing.”
Doug Bailey is a journalist and freelance writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at [email protected].