Consideration of our country’s annual budget has begun. On Monday, February 13, 2012, President Barack Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 (which starts on October 1, 2012). While Democrats predictably praised Obama’s firm leadership, Republicans rushed to microphones to try to say “dead on arrival” in as many different ways as possible. In other words, Congress is starting just where they left off last year—and we know how that ended up.

Under the proposed budget, the President projects spending outlays of $3,803 trillion and revenue of $2,902 trillion in 2013 fiscal year, with a resulting deficit of $901 trillion. While all these numbers truly are mind numbing, at least the deficit projection is lower than the expected deficit for 2012 (i.e., $1,101 trillion). This is what passes as good news these days here in Washington! The President proposes to raise significant additional revenue in this budget through focused tax increases on individuals with taxable incomes over $250,000 (in part by rolling back tax reductions enacted during the administration of George Bush).

The budget contains a number of proposals that, if enacted, would affect retirement plans. Many of these proposals are not new (although some are slightly modified from previous reincarnations) and face steep challenges to enactment. Enactment in 2012 seems unlikely–at least before the presidential election this fall. However, these proposals may form the basis for legislative activity in the end of 2012 (perhaps in an anticipated lame duck session after the November elections when it becomes clear who still is standing) or in subsequent years as Congress tackles tax reform. This blog examines some of the more significant proposals.

As was the case with the fiscal year 2012 budget, the President’s 2013 budget proposes to give the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (the “PBGC”) the power to unilaterally adjust both the flat rate and the variable rate premiums imposed on defined benefit pension plans. The President’s plan, if enacted as proposed, would become effective in 2014. Although legislative changes in 2012 to the premium rate structure (whether to the fixed rate, variable rate or both) remain quite possible (some even say likely assuming a suitable legislative vehicle can be found), it seems unlikely at this point that Congress will grant the unilateral right to set premium rates to the PBGC.

As noted, most of the tax law changes affecting retirement benefits are similar to last year’s ideas, and include the following proposals:

  1. Auto-IRA— Employers who do not offer a retirement plan would be required to enroll employees in a direct-deposit individual retirement account (an “IRA”), although employees could opt out. Classes of employees excluded from plan participation also may have to be enrolled in the IRA program. Small employers (i.e., with 10 or less employees) would be exempt.
  2. RMD Relief For Balances Of $75,000 Or Less— The budget would exempt an individual from the minimum required distribution requirements if the aggregate value of his or her IRA and tax-qualified retirement plan accounts does not exceed $75,000 on a relevant measurement date. For this purpose, the relevant initial measurement date is the beginning of the year in which the individual reaches age 70½ or, if earlier, the year in which the individual dies. Distributions from tax-qualified defined benefit plans that already are in pay status in a life annuity form are excluded for computation purposes.
  3. Inherited IRAs Rollovers— The budget proposes to extend a new 60-day rollover opportunity for amounts distributed from a tax-qualified plan or IRA on behalf of surviving non-spouse beneficiaries.
  4. Electronic Form 5500 Filings— The budget would give the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) the authority to require that information relevant only to employee benefit plan tax requirements be filed electronically in annual Form 5500 filings. Currently, only the Department of Labor (the “DOL”) has the authority to require electronic filing of information that is relevant to the Title I of ERISA (i.e., the non-tax portions of ERISA). It is not clear whether or how this new authority would extend the range of information that has to be filed.

Long on the wish list of the IRS, the budget would authorize the IRS to require the prospective reclassification of workers who are misclassified as independent contractors but cannot be so reclassified under current law (under a protective tax provision dating back to 1978). Efforts to change this rule have been unsuccessful for years, and it seems certain that this effort also will generate considerable resistance. In addition, the IRS would be authorized to issue generally applicable standards for the proper classification of workers based on common law principles. Currently, the IRS is prohibited from issuing such standards.

The budget proposes the adoption of standards that would make employee leasing companies jointly and severally liable for employment taxes payable with respect to workers devoted to clients of the leasing companies. In addition, the budget would make leasing companies solely responsible for those taxes under certain circumstances. These new standards are designed to clear up perceived confusion as to whom is responsible to pay those employment taxes.

While achieving non-partisan agreement on any topic is quite a feat here in Washington these days, the great majority of members of Congress (and most likely representatives of the administration as well) agree that it will be virtually impossible for the President to get any of this budget enacted any time soon—if at all. However, some of these proposals seem likely to be on the table when Congress takes up tax reform in 2013 and later, and thus are worthy of consideration now.