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Dem bill aims to protect threatened pensions

Dem bill aims to protect threatened pensions
© Greg Nash

Democrats in both chambers unveiled legislation on Thursday designed to protect workers whose retirement pensions are threatened with deep cuts in the coming years.

Sponsored by Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem victories in `18 will not calm party turbulence MORE (D-Ohio) and Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTrump makes new overtures to Democrats Key Democrat will ask for Trump tax returns if House flips Better health outcomes at lower costs is a win that everyone can get behind MORE (D-Mass.), the proposal aims to prop up struggling multi-employer pension plans they say could sink the retirement security of more than 1 million workers across the country, largely within the next decade.

Cuts to those pensions, the Democrats argue, would break the contractual promises made to workers that their pension payments would provide retirement security — and be untouchable.

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“When you’re at the bargaining table, you give up dollars today so you’ll have health care and you’ll have a secure retirement,” Brown said during the unveiling in the Capitol, where a handful of lawmakers were surrounded by scores of union workers. 

“It’s sort-of labor economics 101, but a whole hell-of-a-lot of members of Congress don’t really understand that — and don’t understand you have given up something today,” he added. “That’s why that needs to be assured … that it will be there in 10 years, in 20 years, in 30 years.”

The legislation is the latest addition to the Democrats’ “Better Deal” agenda, an economic platform designed to attract a broader swath of voters, particularly those in the conservative-leaning districts who flocked to President Trump at the polls last year.

The legislation has little chance of moving in the GOP-controlled Congress, but Democrats are hoping to use the proposal as another example of the stark differences between the parties when it comes to protecting the financial security of the working class. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, the pension legislation arrived just hours before the House is expected to pass the Republicans’ sweeping tax-reform proposal — a bill the Democrats have hammered as a gift to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the working class. 

“It draws a distinct difference between what our belief systems are,” said Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosDemocrats are offering real change for the people Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Judge upholds Obama's marine monument | GOP lawmakers worried states using water rule to block fossil fuels | Lawmakers press Trump ahead of ethanol decision Hopes for infrastructure deal with Trump rise if Dems win House MORE (Ill.), head of the House Democrats’ policy and messaging arm.

The Democrats are warning of a looming pension catastrophe, saying more than 200 multi-employer plans are on a path to failure. One troubled plan, covering roughly 400,000 Teamsters, is set to run dry within eight years. All told, more than 1.5 million workers are at risk of cuts, they said.

The Democrats’ bill aims to flatten those fiscal cliffs by creating a new office within the Treasury Department that would oversee low-interest loans allowing the plans to pay out full benefits while devising strategies to get back on sound financial footing. The funding would originate from the sale of bonds issued by the Treasury Department to financial institutions. Easing the burden on the plans, the loans would extend for 30 years and retain an interest rate of roughly 3 percent.  

“You can’t fool around with retirement,” Neal said. 

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi heckled by Miami Republicans, Proud Boys at campaign event Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' MORE (D-Calif.) said that, in asking Neal to take the lead on drafting the legislation, she made but one request: “No cuts.” 

“If the promise is made, the promise must be kept, but it’s not only that. It’s promises owed,” Pelosi said. “This is money that you put into the system.”

Pelosi said she’s hopeful the legislation will attract GOP support, noting that many of the blue-collar districts facing the most severe pension problems are represented by Republicans.

“They have a tin ear in many respects, but I don’t think they would have a tin ear on this issue,” she said. “Because so many people in their own districts will be suffering greatly. 

“It’s not subjective, it’s not an opinion,” she added. “It’s an absolute fact.”