Electing Bernie May Not Keep Our Pension Promises

Heart-rending accounts of the impact of Central States proposed cutbacks abound. Teamsters and supporters will march on Washington, Friday, April 14, 2016 (a few days before income taxes are due – later this year on account of Emancipation Day). https://teamster.org/news/2016/03/teamsters-retirees-rally-washington-dc-protect-pensions

Many put their hopes in Senator Sanders’ Keep Our Pension Promises Act or KOPPA. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1631/text

If enacted as drafted (ha ha ha), KOPPA would set up a $29 billion fund within PBGC to help cover underfunded pensions without resorting to the harsh medicine of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act. [full disclosure:  ERISANation’s principal worked on MPRA.  It is harsh. It was and is necessary].

See also the Miners Protection Act which seeks to help participants in the United Mineworkers Plans.

KOPPA reminds us of the 2009 Pomeroy-Tiberi bill, also known as the Pomeroy-Casey bill. http://tiberi.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=151619.

First proposed in 2009  by a Democrat and Republican as principle sponsors, it would have fully funded the PBGC which might have positioned that agency to provide a greater safety net for Central States pensioners.  Remember then the Democrats held the Presidency, and the House, and the Senate.  Pomeroy-Tiberi did not merit a single hearing.  Some of us tried including my old Chairman, MIchael J. Sullivan who spoke at a press conference, wrote a Politico piece, and other wise tried to get an audience.

Pomeroy-Tiberi-Casey quickly lost steam after characterized as another bailout bill. Worse still it was wrongly characterized as a “union bailout.”  In fact, given that a contributing employer’s liability to multiemployer plans extend beyond just making contributions, it should have been called an employer bailout bill.

The nation had spent billions on banks, and insurers, and manufacturers. Adding a few billion more to our deficit for modest workers pensions was a bridge too far.  ERISANation thought naively that the power of shame might be employed.  “Darn right we want a bailout, like you bailed out shareholders and bondholders and the powerful.”  But shame, where is thy sting?  Labor had so many friends on the Hill, but the friends had all dispersed after the signing ceremony on the Affordable Care Act, and then many no longer served after the 2010 elections.  As Wikepedia tells us:  “Although the President’s party usually loses congressional, statewide and local seats in a midterm elections, the 2010 midterm election season featured some of the biggest losses since the Great Depression.”

Why this time, is it different?  In an election year and the prospect of a divided government continuing past the election, it isn’t.  Suppose the Dems win big in November?  Should we expect KOPPA in the first 100 days?   I would not be sanguine.  Senator Sanders intends to open the Tax Code up for a pay-for.  That proverbial can of squirms cannot be opened for just one little adjustment.

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