WASHINGTON -- Investment advisors will play a critical role in helping the nearly 80 million baby boomers and future generations develop a sustainable plan for retirement, a pair of senators said on Wednesday.

At a Capitol Hill luncheon hosted by the Insured Retirement Institute, an industry association, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) warned that the broad changes in the way Americans are able to save for their retirement threaten to leave millions without enough income, creating an untenable strain on the social safety net.

"Too many individuals are outliving their retirement income, and as we have changed from the defined-benefit world into the defined-contribution world, the risks are more on the individual employees. And we need to look at ways that we can encourage more of the lifetime-income sources, taking the pressure off of Social Security and providing a means in which people can live comfortably throughout their entire lives," Cardin said.

"You’ve got to be sure people have a backstop. I mean, Social Security was never meant to be the sole source of income, and it certainly isn't," Portman added.

In 2001, when they were both serving in the House of Representatives, Cardin and Portman led the charge to enact significant retirement reforms, including raising contribution and compensation limits, providing for account consolidation and establishing a saver's credit, among other provisions aimed at encouraging Americans to save for retirement.

Cardin and Portman are working together once again to develop new retirement-reform proposals, an effort that acknowledges the importance of advisors in helping shape workers' retirement planning.

"The two of us are very much concerned about investment advice. That's a critical point," Cardin said. "Too many Americans make action by inaction. They make their allocations in the defined-contribution plan and they never change it, never rebalance it over a long period of time. They need investment advice."

That means the two senators -- along with many other lawmakers and industry groups -- are keeping a close eye on twin proceedings at the Labor Department and SEC concerning changes to financial professionals' fiduciary responsibilities. The Labor Department has proposed to apply a fiduciary standard to advisors working with retirement plans, while the SEC is considering a uniform fiduciary rule that would strengthen the standard of care to which broker-dealers are held, bringing oversight of that segment in line with the rules governing investment advisors.

Each of those proceedings has prompted objections from various corners of the industry and some members of Congress, including some critics who warn that the standards could be overlapping or conflicting, further complicating the compliance landscape and potentially causing some advisors to abandon the retirement space.

"We are looking at the current challenges between the Department of Labor and the SEC to make sure that there's not conflicts with how these two agencies are moving forward, and that people can get -- small businesses and individual investors -- can get reasonable advice," Cardin said, adding that it's important that advisors are not "intimidated" by the new rules.

Among the other issues the senators are considering are new provisions to further strengthen automatic enrollment in retirement plans, new tax incentives for retirement saving and financial literacy education.

The IRI recognized Cardin and Portman with its 2013 Champion of Retirement Security award at Wednesday's luncheon.

Read more: