American Benefits Council
Benefits Byte


March 20, 2015

The Benefits Byte is the American Benefits Council’s regular e-mail and online newsletter for members only, providing timely reports on legislative, regulatory and judicial developments, along with updates on the Council’s activities in support of employer-sponsored benefit plans.

The Benefits Byte is published by the American Benefits Council, based on staff reports and edited by Jason Hammersla, Council director of communications. Contact information for Council staff related to specific topics can be found at the end of each story.

Click here to read past issues on the Benefits Byte Archive page.

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2016 Budget Resolutions Approved by Senate, House Panels

The U.S. Senate Budget Committee unveiled and approved a Fiscal Year 2016 budget resolution on March 18 and 19, while the comparable House of Representatives panel passed its own resolution, which had been released earlier in the week. Like the House Republicans’ proposal, and President Obama’s proposal released earlier this year, the Senate Republicans’ resolution outlines its authors’ legislative policy agenda for the near and long term – including current views on the health care law and tax reform.

The Senate and House proposals will now proceed to the floor of each chamber, where they will be considered by the full Senate and House, respectively. It is anticipated they will pass along party-line votes (although controversy over military funding in the House proposal may drive a wedge between fiscal conservatives and the Republican leadership). Congressional budget resolutions are non-binding, although they do establish a framework for setting specific spending levels for various executive branch agencies.

As we reported in the March 17 Benefits Byte, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives recently released its own budget resolution, A Balanced Budget for A Stronger America. The House Budget Committee approved the legislative text of the resolution March 19, on a party-line vote of 22-13.

The Senate Republicans’ resolution, released in the form of a summary as well as legislative text, was also approved on March 19. The Senate resolution does not include “policy statements” like the House bill, though the summary expressly calls for repeal and replacement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in favor of “legislation that strengthens the doctor-patient relationship, expands choice, and lowers health care costs.”

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure (H.R. 596) to repeal PPACA on February 3 and a similar measure (S. 339) has been introduced in the Senate, although President Obama has announced that he would veto such legislation. Neither the Senate nor the House proposal considers changes to the health care law outside of full repeal. Republican lawmakers from both chambers recently announced the development of a PPACA replacement bill, The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment (Patient CARE) Act (see the February 5 Benefits Byte for more details).

The Senate budget proposal also allows for reform of the tax code, and under the heading “Supports Stronger Economic Growth,” the plan would establish an economic growth reserve fund for policies that:

  • Lower the after-tax costs of investment, savings, and work
  • Reduce the costs to business and individuals from the tax code.
  • Reduce the costs borne by U.S. economic activity stemming from federal regulations.
  • Reduce the costs of frivolous lawsuits.

During committee debate, the panel approved a number of amendments with benefit policy implications:

  • A bipartisan amendment offered by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) would seek to eliminate or modify a number of congressionally mandated reports that have been deemed duplicative or outdated. The Council, in its A 2020 Vision strategic plan, recommended the elimination of “duplicative, contradictory or excessive regulations that impose administrative burdens with respect to plan sponsorship.”
  • An amendment offered by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Ayotte would seek to “reform, improve and enhance 529 college savings plans.” While Section 529 plans are not employee benefit plans, they are similar to retirement plans in that they provide a tax incentive for saving. Retirement plan tax incentives, like education savings tax incentives, have been the subject of debate in the context of comprehensive tax reform and deficit reduction.
  • An amendment by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) would create a deficit-neutral reserve fund “to help struggling Americans on the road to personal and financial independence.” The specifics of this amendment are not yet available.

There were also numerous amendments to reform and expand the budget scoring process.

As the Senate and House consider these budget resolutions during the week of March 23 – just prior to the spring recess period – lawmakers will also be grappling with legislation to permanently address the “sustainable growth rate,” the lynchpin of the payment formula used to determine Medicare reimbursements.

Such legislation, commonly referred to as the “doc fix,” is necessary to stave off large cuts to Medicare provider payments when the 2014 one-year patch expires at the end of March. A legislative fix, whether short-term or long-term, is likely to incur substantial federal revenue costs and it is not clear from what source the necessary revenue offsets will come.

For more information, contact Diann Howland, vice president, legislative affairs, at (202) 289-6700.

A Bit About Your Benefits: Updating Member Contact Information

Have a new job title? Want to update your phone number in our records, or change your password to access the Members-Only section of our website? This is easily accomplished!

Click on the blue Members Only button in the top right corner of the home page of the Council’s website and insert your userid (the email address to which we send you various communications) and your password. This initial page also contains a link to retrieve your password if you need it.

Under “edit your profile”, you can update your contact information and change your password. Because Council memberships are corporate, please note that we can only accept your company (not your personal) e-mail address. To make an update to your name or e-mail address (because of a change of employer) please contact the Council’s staff directly.

If you have colleagues at your company/firm with benefits responsibilities who are not currently receiving Council materials directly, they can sign up by completing the membership form. An e-mail welcoming them and a userID and password will be emailed in reply usually within 24 hours.

For more information or assistance, contact Sondra Williams, manager, member & staff engagement, or Mary Lindsay, receptionist, at (202) 289-6700.

The American Benefits Council is the national trade association for companies concerned about federal legislation and regulations affecting all aspects of the employee benefits system. The Council's members represent the entire spectrum of the private employee benefits community and either sponsor directly or administer retirement and health plans covering more than 100 million Americans.

Notice: the information contained herein is general in nature. It is not, and should not be construed as, accounting, consulting, legal or tax advice or opinion provided by the American Benefits Council or any of its employees. As required by the IRS, we inform you that any information contained herein was not intended or written to be used or referred to, and cannot be used or referred to (i) for the purpose of avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, or (ii) in promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein (and any attachment).