Thursday, October 30, 2008

McCain Endorses Obama's Signature Retirement Policy Proposal

I'm pretty sure I'm in the 99th percentile of the population in terms of knowledge of the Obama and McCain economic policy proposals, so I was very surprised to read this post on the Tax Policy Center blog saying that McCain supports the automatic IRA. I have read through the McCain economic policy in detail, listened to McCain economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin speak about said policy in person on two occasions, and heard him talk in innumerable radio interviews and debates, and I've never heard any mention of the IRA proposal. I put my Googler skills to work and discovered that this endorsement came in the form of the McCain campaign's answers to this recent questionnaire from the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries. The Retirement Security Project, which promotes the idea, put out a press release yesterday to herald the news.

This is remarkable because the automatic IRA is a major Obama policy proposal which has been repeatedly trumpeted by the candidate and by economic adviser Austan Goolsbee. I wrote about it way back in January when comparing the Obama and Clinton retirement proposals. Here's how the campaign described the proposal:

  • Create Automatic Workplace Pensions: Obama's retirement security plan will automatically enroll workers in a workplace pension plan. Under his plan, employers who do not currently offer a retirement plan, will be required to enroll their employees in a direct-deposit IRA account that is compatible to existing direct-deposit payroll systems. Employees may opt-out if they choose. Experts estimate that this program will increase the savings participation rate for low and middle-income workers from its current 15 percent level to around 80 percent.
I wrote in January that the proposal is
a political no-brainer and is supported by both progressive economists and the right-wing Heritage Foundation. This is because it's smart, nearly cost-free policy. As such, it does fit better with Obama's "bring us together" rhetoric and gives lie to the claim that the only way forward on every issue is hard-core political warfare. Making IRAs "automatic," i.e. the default option, for workers without 401(k)s, would make millions of Americans better-prepared for retirement with a policy that Democrats and Republicans can readily agree on.
If we weren't in the final days of the campaign, I might hope a journalist would ask McCain why he decided at this late date to take time off from calling Obama a socialist and endorse his key retirement policy proposal.

My guess is that Holtz-Eakin was tasked with filling out this questionnaire and said to himself, what the hell, why not back the automatic IRA?

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