The federal government has decided to interfere in Oregon's new program to offer low- and middle-income workers a low-cost, no-hassle, retirement savings plan.
With the enormous number of pressing problems facing the country — from health care to national security — it's difficult to understand why Congress is finding it necessary to poke its nose into Oregonians' business.
It is doubly puzzling given that the new OregonSaves program, scheduled to launch on July 1, embodies the very virtues that the GOP majority in Congress would normally embrace: self-reliance, fiscal prudence and reduced dependence on government handouts.
Nonetheless, Senate Republicans Wednesday voted to roll back a federal rule that cleared the way for state-based retirement plans such as the ones being introduced in Oregon and a handful of other states.
The Oregon plan, like many good inventions, is beautifully simple. It focuses on the one in two private-sector employees who don't have access to a retirement savings plan at work, including many owners of small businesses.
A small percentage of workers' pay — 5 percent, unless a worker chooses to save more or less — will be deducted from each paycheck and invested in an individual account. The state government can't touch these accounts, which will be managed by private sector professionals at a cost of 1 percent of assets under management — and possibly less over time.
Employees are automatically enrolled in the plan unless they choose to opt out. They can quit participating at any time or take money out before retirement if they need it.
Such a plan has multiple benefits. Between 600,000 and 1 million Oregonians currently have no workplace savings option. Unless they have a defined-benefit pension plan at work — an option that is rapidly going the way of the dodo — significant savings, or a wealthy elderly relative, they're going to be depending on Social Security for retirement income. Given that Social Security benefits average $1,341 a month, that is a grim prospect, one that is likely to increase the burden on social service agencies by impoverished seniors.
Workers can brighten that prospect significantly, however, while also reducing their taxes. Saving $25 a week through OregonSaves, for example, adds up to $44,600 in 20 years, or $90,475 in 30 years, assuming a 5 percent net rate of return.
About the only real opposition to these workplace savings plans has come from the financial services industry, which presumably see these low-cost plans as competition.
Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley blasted the GOP's action. State Treasurer Tobias Read called it an attack on working families and vowed to continue with plans to launch the pilot project on July 1, although OregonSaves' future is murky if President Trump signs the Senate resolution.