WASHINGTON - The financial services industry is gearing up to lobby President Clinton to sign legislation overwhelmingly app-roved by the House Wednesday that would more than double the permissible annual contribution to individual retirement accounts.
The bill still must clear the Senate after the House passed it 401 to 25, but lobbyists said its fate is tied to a continuing stalemate between the White House and Republican lawmakers over tax legislation. The President has already threatened to veto recent House and Senate bills that would eliminate estate and so-called marriage penalty taxes, and election-year politics could drag down the IRA proposal with them.
"This is so overwhelmingly popular, it's hard to imagine it would get snagged in partisanship, but this is a political year," Securities Industry Association president Marc Lackritz said after a press conference Wednesday to tout industry and public support for the legislation.
Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable, predicted victory and said his members will work hard to make sure their top priority among tax issues becomes law.
"With the overwhelming vote out of the House, that should create a powerful momentum that I believe will carry over to the Senate" and give President Clinton no choice but to sign it, he said. "The American people are desperate for it - the ability to save for their own retirement."
The Senate voted 59 to 39 last week for an amendment similar to the House IRA bill during debate on a separate tax bill, but this amendment was yanked at the last moment for procedural reasons.
Under the House bill, the cap on annual IRA contributions would be raised to $5,000 from $2,000 for taxpayers age 50 and above starting next year. For everyone else, the cap would be gradually raised to $5,000 by 2003. Future increases would be tied to inflation. Other provisions would loosen limits on 401(k) and other retirement plans.
On a 221-200 vote, Democrats lost an attempt to add the President's plan for Retirement Savings Accounts, in which federal funds would be used to match deposits by average workers, to the IRA bill. Debate over that amendment gave a hint of the arguments the Clinton administration could employ against the IRA bill.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and other Democrats said that solely increasing IRA limits would expand the investment options of high-paid executives, but would do little to encourage more savings by low- and moderate-income people.
"As currently written, this reform bill is flawed," he said. "Let's get a good piece of legislation done that can get the support of the administration and the bulk of the American people."
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the legislation, and Rep. Gephardt did not use the word "veto," but Rep. Robert T. Matsui, D-Calif., said during the debate that the bill "would be vetoed by the President if it stands by itself."
Anticipating Democrats' arguments, the Savings Coalition of America - whose 75 members include the securities group, the financial roundtable, the American Bankers Association, and large financial institutions such as Chase Manhattan Bank and Edward D. Jones & Co. - presented a study to demonstrate the bill's wide appeal.
The study, based on interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide, said 88% of Americans favor raising the IRA limit to $5,000. It also found that 69% of all taxpayers owning IRAs in 1995 contributed the maximum, including 65% of workers who make under $20,000 a year. Mr. Lackritz added that 72% of the contributors had annual incomes below $50,000.
Separately, a House Education subcommittee on employer-employee relations adopted legislation on a voice vote Wednesday that would let employers hire firms to provide investment advice to workers who participate in 401(k) and other retirement plans. The ABA hailed the vote and said it would complement the IRA bill.