Did ‘The Daily Show’ Affect Pension Smoothing?

By Ray Harmon • July 31, 2014 • 0 Comments

The U.S. Senate passed legislation July 29 to fund the nation’s Highway Trust Fund — legislation that does not include a pension smoothing provision. The vote tally on the $8.1 billion bill was 79-18.

The Senate bill differs from the $10.8 billion version that the House of Representatives passed on July 15 with overwhelming bipartisan support, both in its omission of pension smoothing and in its implementation timetable. The bill must now make its way back through the House and onto President Obama’s desk in very short order to prevent the nation’s Highway Trust Fund from being depleted. 

Pension smoothing lets employers put off making pension contributions, reducing tax benefits associated with those contributions and, thus, increasing federal tax revenue for the affected period. The pension smoothing provision in the House bill was intended to raise much-needed money for the Highway Trust Fund. The Senate version of the bill instead raises money partly by making it more difficult for unqualified taxpayers to claim certain deductions and credits.

So what made the Senate unexpectedly “change lanes” on the highway bill?

Perhaps it was the impassioned plea of Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on the Senate floor. Or the words of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.): “We’re saying that the Highway Trust Fund is going broke, so to fix it we’re going to endanger another fund, the pension funds of our workers? It’s terrible.”

Or perhaps Senators heard the chorus of groans from Jon Stewart’s audience after he explained pension smoothing the other night on “The Daily Show.” (Click here to view a clip of the segment; skip to the 5:57 mark.)

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has threatened to ignore the Senate-passed version and send his original bill back to the Senate. Roll Call wonders (persuasively) if House Democrats who originally supported Boehner’s version might now, in the face of time constraints, drop that support to force the House to approve the Senate’s bill.

We’ll keep you posted on all the pre-recess drama.

Ray Harmon, Esq. is ASPPA/NAPA Government Affairs Counsel.