House Dems Contemplating the Elimination of 401(K) Tax Breaks

If House Democrats have their way, the 401(k) system that currently includes tax breaks will be eliminated:

Powerful House Democrats are eyeing proposals to overhaul the nation’s $3 trillion 401(k) system, including the elimination of most of the $80 billion in annual tax breaks that 401(k) investors receive.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-California, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, are looking at redirecting those tax breaks to a new system of guaranteed retirement accounts to which all workers would be obliged to contribute.

A plan by Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic-policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York, contains elements that are being considered. She testified last week before Miller’s Education and Labor Committee on her proposal.

At that hearing, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, Peter Orszag, testified that some $2 trillion in retirement savings has been lost over the past 15 months.

Under Ghilarducci’s plan, all workers would receive a $600 annual inflation-adjusted subsidy from the U.S. government but would be required to invest 5 percent of their pay into a guaranteed retirement account administered by the Social Security Administration. The money in turn would be invested in special government bonds that would pay 3 percent a year, adjusted for inflation. (Emphasis mine)

Welcome to the United Socialist States of America folks. This is what you’ll be looking at if Barack Obama becomes president. And if you think they’re going to stop there, you’re being hopelessly naive.

Hat tip: Tom Elia at The New Editor

Update: James Pethokoukis at US News and World Report has more detail on the consequences this kind of action would have on Americans’ retirement. But first he ponders this:

I hate to use the “S” word, but the American government would never do something as, well, socialist as seize private pension funds, right? This is exactly what cash-strapped Argentina just did in the name of protecting workers’ retirement accounts (Efharisto, Fausta’s Blog). Now, even Uncle Sam isn’t that stupid, but some Democrats might try something almost as loopy: kill 401(k) plans.

And the consequences of such an action:

4) Ghilarducci would offer a lousy 3 percent return. The long-run return of the stock market, adjusted for inflation, is more like 7 percent. Look at it this way: Ten thousand dollars growing at 3 percent a year for 40 years leaves you with roughly $22,000. But $10,000 growing at 7 percent a year for 40 years leaves you with $150,000. That is a high price to pay for what Ghilarducci describes as the removal of “a source of financial anxiety and…fruitless discussions with brokers and financial sales agents, who are also desperate for more fees and are often wrong about markets.” Please, I’ll take a bit of worry for an additional $128,000.

5) What effect would this plan have on an already battered stock market? Well, I would imagine it would send it even lower, sticking a shiv into the portfolios of everyone who didn’t jump aboard. But I am sure the Chinese would love to jump in and buy all our cheap stocks to fund the retirement of their citizens.

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