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Wagner's D.C. profile increases as she tangles with White House over bill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 30, 2013 - U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner has captured the attention of the White House with her success this week in winning House passage of a bill – dubbed the Retailer Investor Protection Act – to delay or block federal agencies from imposing more restrictions on financial advisers who handle retirement investments, such as IRAs.

The case is yet another example of Wagner, R-Ballwin, attracting more national publicity.

Wagner was the chief sponsor of a billthat passed the House earlier this week by a vote of 254-166.  Those voting in favor included most of the House’s Republican majority, plus a handful of Democrats.  All of the opponents were Democrats.

The bill's prospects are uncertain. So far, it’s unclear if or when the Senate might take up the bill, and the White House said that President Barack Obama would be advised to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

Among other things, the bill is targeting some of the financial changes -- notably, stronger government oversight -- that have been advocated by the Dodd-Frank legislation that passed several years ago in the wake of the financial meltdown that took place in late 2008 and early 2009.

Wagner's bill would require the U.S. Department of Labor to delay its new rules until 60 days after the Securities and Exchange Commission comes out with its own regulations. Some groups predict the SEC's regulations might be friendlier to the investment industry.

In any case, some in both parties have raised concerns about the proposed expanded federal restrictions. According to news accounts, some experts say the result could make it more difficult for future retirees to obtain financial advice, since advisers might be more skittish about handling IRA accounts.

Backers of the changes say they are needed to protect retirees, investors and their money from exploitation.

In a lengthy statement this week, the White House contended that Wagner’s bill “would derail important rule-makings underway at the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Labor that are critical to protecting Americans’ hard-earned savings and preserving their retirement security.”

“The administration is committed to ensuring that American workers and retirees are able to receive advice about how to invest their money in safe, secure, and transparent financial products that is free from harmful conflicts of interest,” the statement continued.

“These ongoing rule-makings are designed to protect trillions of dollars in retirement savings of millions of workers and retirees by ensuring that paid advisors and other entities do not place their own financial interests over those of their customers. This legislation would place an unnecessary obstacle in the way of these efforts to prevent such harmful conflicts of interest, which hurt businesses, consumers, and retirees and their families.”

Wagner disagrees. “This legislation will preserve and increase lower and middle income Americans' access to affordable investments. It will also ensure that retail investors – families and individuals around the country – are not harmed by misguided regulations coming out of Washington. Today’s vote is an important step in that direction, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance this legislation in the Senate.”

So far, it’s unclear if or when the Senate might take up the bill. And the White House said that President Barack Obama will be advised to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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