This piece originally ran on the Washington Examiner on March 20, 2023.
President Joe Biden just issued his first veto on a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Review Act measure that we championed in Congress to protect middle-class investors saving for retirement. He did so at a time when people are increasingly unable to retire.
One in 5, including 1 in 3 baby boomers, has no retirement savings. Almost 80% of investors are either “extremely” or “somewhat” concerned about affording a comfortable retirement, according to a recent analysis released by Northwestern Mutual. The total retirement savings gap in the United States is over $3.8 trillion, and historic inflation is crippling the wallets of seniors.
Now more than ever, retirement plan sponsors should be solely focused on delivering maximum financial returns and security for investors. That’s why the Department of Labor’s recent rule opening the door to ESG, or "environmental, social, and governance," investing in employer-sponsored retirement plans is so dangerous. The challenge we led in Congress would nullify this rule before it wreaks havoc on the financial security of millions.
Consider these facts: According to the Wall Street Journal’s reporting, ESG funds carry 43% higher fees on average versus non-ESG funds. The University of California, Los Angeles, and New York University found that ESG funds underperformed the broader market by 250 basis points from 2017-2022, yielding a 2.6% lower return compared to non-ESG funds.
Proponents of the ESG movement claim that the desire for ESG investing comes directly from investors, not woke asset managers on Wall Street. This claim is undercut by a University of Chicago and FINRA study from 2021 that showed only 21% of investors even knew what ESG stood for.
It’s important to note that nothing contained in our challenge prohibits ESG investing by those who want to engage in it. Our belief is that individual investors should be able to sacrifice financial returns to advance an environmental or political cause of their choosing. But it should be their choosing, not the choosing of asset managers on Wall Street, and especially not because the government is plowing investors into ESG funds as a favor to environmentalist special-interest groups.
Even if you don’t own an investment account, the ESG movement is hitting your pocketbook. This winter, household energy prices hit a 10-year high, costing the average family $1,200, according to a report from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. For this disaster, we can thank an avalanche of government regulations designed to redirect capital away from energy production. In Biden’s first year in office, the U.S. saw a 25% decline in investments for new oil and natural gas exploration. As a result, regular gasoline prices are up 40%, and the price of diesel fuel has almost doubled. In less than two years, we went from energy-dominant to energy-desperate.
This time, Biden’s submission to climate special-interest groups went too far, even for some Democrats in Congress. His veto is a rejection of a bipartisan majority in both houses, and the fight to protect the public's retirement savings from this agenda won't stop here. Our challenge has set the stage for a future administration to work with Congress in a bipartisan way to relegate this rule to the trash heap of big government policies putting the liberal agenda first and the people last.
Currently, 25 states are suing the Biden administration to stop this harmful rule. We are hopeful that the courts will step in and strike this rule down without delay. Let’s just hope investors don’t suffer too much in the meantime.