By Emily Gilbert
Today I went to the first public meeting of the newly-formed Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Plans. Based on the comments of Committee members we are hopeful that they will put aside their differences and work in a bipartisan fashion to develop a fair and comprehensive solution to the multiemployer crisis by year’s end.
The Committee, established by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 which was signed into law on February 9th, 2018, consists of 16 members of Congress divided equally between the House and Senate and the majority and minority parties. The Committee is charged with developing recommendations and legislative language that will “significantly improve the solvency of multiemployer pension plans and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation” by November 30th, 2018. The Joint Select Committee will hold up to five hearings and meetings, at least one of which will be outside of Washington, D.C., to hear all points of view. If the Committee agrees on a solution, it will be fast-tracked through the Senate.
At this morning’s meeting, the members voted to approve the committee rules and made opening statements. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the Committee’s Co-Chair, opened the meeting, highlighting that the Committee faces an “enormous and difficult task,” and he emphasized the importance of listening to all sides of this issue and working in a bipartisan way. Co-Chair Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) spoke next, echoing that this is not a partisan issue. He talked about some of the retiree activists he has met, including Mike Walden and Rita Lewis, and said he comes to this process with “an open mind, ready to listen and ready to work.” Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) urged the members to leave their biases behind, saying “we’ve got to figure out how to do this in a nonpartisan way.” Many members talked about the real people they have met who are affected by this issue. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) told stories of truck drivers she has met throughout Minnesota, and in her statement Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) urged the members to think not only of the economics of this issue, but the human imperative to fix this for the retirees who will otherwise be harmed.
You can watch the full meeting here.
Other Committee members participating in the meeting were Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Representatives Phil Roe (R-TN), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Richard Neal (D-MA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL) did not attend the meeting.
The Joint Select Committee was formed after Democrats were unable to get sufficient support for legislation introduced into Congress last year by Senator Brown and Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA). The Butch Lewis Act (S.2147) and the Rehabilitation of Multiemployer Plans Act (HR.4444) proposed providing loans to troubled plans so they can pay full benefits to retirees, and build their finances to meet their benefit obligations to active workers. Although the Democrats made passage of these bills a top priority and fought for the bills to be included in budget legislation, and some Republicans supported the bills, the Majority leadership did not support this legislative approach. The Joint Committee was created to allow the parties to agree on a bipartisan solution. We now are pinning our hopes on Committee members to develop the right approach that will save underfunded multiemployer plans, protect retirees and workers and employers and stabilize the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
The Pension Rights Center stands ready to assist the Joint Committee members in crafting a workable and fair solution. Millions of retirees across the country worked hard for years to earn a pension, and now they are relying on the Joint Select Committee to develop a comprehensive solution to protect the earned pensions of workers and retirees and keep the multiemployer pension system strong into the future. After all, strong pensions mean strong families, strong communities and strong economies.
To learn more about this issue, read our fact sheet about Multiemployer Reform.
To learn more about the Joint Select Committee, read this report from the Congressional Research Service.