As the ranking minority member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance and a leading Republican Party figure, seven-term Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has had a busy fall. Before the budget and debt ceiling fight in Washington boiled over, though, the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions found time to propose what could be a sweeping new pension reform. America cannot continue sleepwalking into the financial disaster that awaits us if we do not get the public pension debt crisis under control, Hatch warned lawmakers in a June speech to the Senate during which he unveiled the Secure Annuities for Employee (SAFE) Retirement Act of 2013. SAFEs goals are twofold: to implement public and private pension reform and, in Hatchs words, stop the Department of Labor from unilaterally overregulating 401(k) plans and IRAs, by taking its oversight of them away. Hatch, 79, proposes replacing the existing public defined benefit system with a defined fixed-income life annuity. I listened to people on all sides of the pension debate, including employee groups that want public plans to provide lifetime income, he told the Senate. The pending bill would be a bonanza for the life insurance industry, which under SAFE would take over management of $3 trillion in public defined benefit assets.
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