The legislation also gives financial firms that manage investment plans rights to offer advice to people with 401(k) and IRA plans. Advocates argued that individual investors today often don't have access to good advice, while critics questioned whether portfolio managers might give biased advice.
The legislation comes at a time when more companies are opting to scale back or eliminate defined-benefit plans. The PBGC says that such plans fell from 114,000 in 1985 to 31,000 in 2004.
The bill, said AARP's David Sloane in a letter to lawmakers, "is designed primarily to protect the government from financial exposure" and "does little to address the erosion of the defined-benefit system."
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Calif., also pointed out that deep in the bill is a provision that gives defense contractors more time to meet new rules on payments and benefit limitations.
The GOP leaders' decision to bring the pension bill to the House floor came after House-Senate negotiations on a larger bill linking pension overhaul with tax breaks collapsed Thursday night.
House Republicans sought to strip the tax measures from the bill so they could be used, along with the minimum wage hike, as sweeteners to push a permanent estate tax cut through the Senate.