If At First You Don't Succeed…

August 24, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Wealthier Americans can bridge the "advice gap" by hiring an investment advisor. But few working families can afford such a luxury on their own. Instead, they end up getting their advice from Bob at the coffee shop.

Republican Representative John Boehner was first elected to represent the eighth congressional district of Ohio in 1990. Boehner is the former president of Nucite Sales, a small sales company in the packaging and plastics industry.  He joined the firm in the mid-1970s after working nights as a janitor to put himself through college, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Cincinnati’s Xavier University in 1977.  While at Nucite he dealt with many of the issues small business operators face today and has actually struggled with many of the administrative forms and procedural requirements of qualified plans – an experience that continues to fuel his interest in these programs.

During the last Congress, the Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which is chaired by Boehner, held a series of public hearings to discuss how to reform the nation’s pension system, a quarter century after its enactment.  In June 2000, Boehner introduced the Retirement Security Advice Act, H.R. 4747, one of three ERISA “modernization” proposals resulting from those hearings.

The most controversial element of the bill would allow investment management firms and mutual funds to offer participants investment advice for a fee on assets it manages, so long as that advice is accompanied by specific disclosures regarding the fees, services and the relationship of the provider to the investment funds’ choices offered to participants.  That bill attracted interest, but was harshly criticized by some, including most advice providers, the AARP, AFL-CIO and, perhaps most critically, the Department of Labor itself (see The Advice Question:  Is Legislation the Answer) .
On June 21 Boehner introduced the Retirement Security Advice Act (H.R. 2269), nearly a year to the day after his last proposal.  This version is in most respects identical to the one introduced a year earlier, though some new language that attempts to more tightly define the role of a “fiduciary advisor” has been added. 

A year ago, the DoL had taken the position that the protections included in Boehner’s advice bill were already included in ERISA, and that the risks associated with biased advice were too great. But in a significant turnabout reflecting the perspective of a new presidential administration, Assistant Secretary of Labor Ann Combs threw the DoL’s support behind Boehner’s initiative during a hearing of the Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee on July 17. PLANSPONSOR Executive Editor Nevin Adams spoke with Boehner later that same afternoon.