Preston Rutledge, President Trump’s nominee to head the Employee Benefits Security Administration at the Labor Department, testified that he believes in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
“Retirement should not be a partisan issue,” Rutledge said in prepared remarks. He currently serves as senior tax and benefits counsel on the Senate Finance Committee, and previously spent a decade as a tax law specialist at the IRS.
He also testified that he believes in the importance of workplace benefits programs, and if confirmed, would work to expand access to retirement, health, and other employee benefits programs.
Rutledge was one of four subcabinet nominees before the HELP committee, and received relatively few questions from lawmakers. The lion’s share of questions during the nearly two-hour hearing were directed at nominees to the Education Department.
As head of EBSA, Rutledge would be instrumental in leading a review of the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, which has been ordered by President Trump.
The rule’s impartial conduct standards, which require that advice on investments in qualified retirement accounts be made in investors’ best interests, have already been implemented. Labor has proposed a year-and-a-half delay of other major provisions of the rule scheduled for implementation on January 1, 2018.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, ranking member on the HELP Committee and a supporter of full implementation of the fiduciary rule as scheduled, asked Rutledge if he supports a delay of the rule.
Rutledge said that he could not commit the Labor Department as to how to proceed on the rule, but said that he has reviewed the Presidential memorandum that instructed Labor to review the rule.
“It appears to me to direct the Department to review the rule from the perspective of the investor, the participant, the worker, the retiree—are you sure you’re not hurting those people,” answered Rutledge. “ERISA’s very participant centered.”
Sen. Murray noted Mr. Rutledge’s comments on the fiduciary rule in an interview, from which BenefitsPRO quoted the nominee as saying he had some “discomfort” with the rule.
Rutledge sought to clarify his comments during the hearing.
“I’ve never said I have discomfort with the fiduciary rule,” said Rutledge. “What I was saying at the time was the Department of Treasury was not involved at the time. There were those of us on the staff (of the Senate Finance Committee), and Chairman Hatch shared our view, that Treasury should at least be at the table if this rule was going to create additional work for them.”
“That was the discomfort,” added Rutledge. “It wasn’t about the rule, it was about the fact that Treasury didn’t seem to be involved, as far as we could tell.”
In another line of questioning regarding the Labor Department’s oversight of a mental health parity law, Rutledge said he would faithfully implement the law to the best of his ability.
“That’s the recommendation I will always have to Sec. Acosta,” he said.
The HELP Committee will entertain written comments on Rutledge and Kate O’Scannlain, the nominee for Solicitor at the Labor Department, for another 10 days.