As many of you know, the “Butch Lewis Act” is back before the 116th Congress as H.R. 397: Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act. The proposed legislation now has 177 cosponsors, including 8 Republicans. Importantly, by a vote of 26 to 18, the proposed legislation cleared the Education and Labor Committee, but only along party lines.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who as panel Chair, has come out aggressively opposed to this legislation saying that she doesn’t see a path to even a vote occurring in the Senate should the legislation make it out of the House. Here are Rep. Foxx’s opening comments (in italics) and my thoughts regarding her concerns in bold and within parentheses.
“But the most stunning turn of events has been the announcement that we would, in fact, proceed with consideration of a full taxpayer bailout of private-sector multiemployer pension plans. (What is meant by a “full” taxpayer bailout? Do these plans not have significant assets accumulated to meet future liabilities?) When this markup was noticed and this particular bill, H.R. 397, was listed, I, along with every member of this Committee who understands how serious and complex this issue is, was shocked.
Lining this room are the portraits of individuals who have served as chairs of this Committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, going back several decades. All of them have managed this Committee’s vast and varied jurisdiction with an all-too-clear understanding that the issue of pension reform is one of the most difficult, high-consequence responsibilities that committee members must meet. (Pension reform is absolutely critical, but while Washington legislators fiddle, Multiemployer plans burn.) That is why, regardless of party affiliation or other pressing circumstances, they insisted that this committee proceed with extraordinary care, caution, and cooperation before touching the retirement security of so many hardworking Americans and retirees. (Sorry, but the retirement income of many Americans has already been touched through the government-sanctioned slashing of benefits under MPRA, and more than one dozen plans have “successfully” filed for such relief – appalling!)
They would be confounded by today’s markup. We’re actually about to consider a bill that is poorly drafted and outlandishly framed.
In 2014, many of us on this dais today, under the leadership of Chairman John Kline and Ranking Member George Miller, worked together to bring much-needed reforms (I don’t know about you, but draconian cuts to promised benefits that in some cases exceed 50% are tough to describe as much-needed reforms) to the multiemployer pension system, with an understanding that no amount of money would fix the structural problems in the system that put so many retirees and taxpayers at risk in the first place. The legislation before us today totally destroys that framework. (The legislation before Rep. Foxx and the others on the Committee is designed to extend a 30-year lifeline to these struggling plans and not force plan participants onto the Federal Government’s social safety net.) It is a sweeping, politically motivated ploy that is beneath the standards and the integrity of this Committee, which has historically modeled for the rest of Congress in practice and in policy how we should treat something so personal and so vital to Americans as their own hard-earned pensions. (Please stop with this rhetoric. If you honestly believed that hard-earned pensions were so personal and so vital to Americans, you would have NEVER supported MPRA in the first place and you certainly wouldn’t continue to push the pension crisis further down the road. The time to act is now.)
This isn’t just a taxpayer bailout. This is a lie. We are here to consider a bill that will meet certain death in the Senate. (That certain death is because of political bias and not the merits of this proposed legislation.) We will find ourselves back at the drawing board, and everyone here knows that’s what we can expect on an issue as complex as this one. Those of us on this Committee who were here in 2014 will recall the serious, bipartisan negotiations required to get a final product on which we could all agree. And those of us who served on the Joint Select Committee established during the last Congress to focus exclusively on this issue, know it’s not this easy—if it were, the Select Committee would have reported a bill. (The Joint Select Committee did float a test balloon, which blew up in their faces because it was so poorly thought out, including the potential to negatively impact even sound multiemployer plans).
But the workers and retirees who are going to be impacted don’t see it that way. They see Washington Democrats offering more false hope. (Should they just accept the fact that those in critical and declining plans will see a dramatic reduction in their promised benefits despite contributing significantly to this “benefit”?) They’re told by one special interest group or another that all we have to do is spend a hundred billion dollars of the taxpayers’ money and they’ll be fine, their pensions will be secure, and they can rest easy again. (Where are you getting the figure of $100 billion?)
We know that’s not true. (Correct, the proposed sum needed to extend a pension lifeline is much smaller than $100 billion.) We owe it to them to take this problem seriously. This bill is not serious. And treating unserious proposals as real solutions amounts to lying to the public. I’ve yet to see anyone who truly needs answers, who truly needs help, benefit from these empty promises. Democrats make lavish promises to students, to seniors, to hardworking mothers, to hourly workers, and here, now, to retirees. And the only people I’ve ever seen benefit from these empty promises are Democrats themselves, on Election Day.
On behalf of every American who will be left empty-handed today, we will continue to be truthful about what we are doing. We will continue to search for real solutions instead of shortcuts and paybacks to special interests. (Congress has had decades to find “real solutions” but nothing of merit has been brought forth until this proposal. H.R. 397 provides for low-interest rate loans to be extended to critical and declining plans for the purpose of ensuring that current benefits (retired lives) are paid, as promised, while also providing an extended investment horizon for future liabilities and the loan repayment to be met. Rep. Foxx, did you support the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008? This legislation seems like a drop in the bucket given that it is designed to save those vital pensions for more than 1 million hard-working Americans!)
Talk is cheap. Bad bills are costly.” (It seems like Congress just wants to talk, and as the delay extends, more and more multiemployer pension plans fall into critical and declining status – shameful!)