Education and Labor Committee approves pension reform bill

  • June 11, 2019

The House Education and Labor Committee today advanced legislation to shore up failing multiemployer pension plans.

The committee approved, 28-18, the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act H.R. 397 (116), which resembles strongly a 2017 bill introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D.-Ohio). Like that bill, the new one, sponsored by Rep. Richard Neal (D._Mass.), would create a Treasury agency to issue bond-backed loans to faltering multiemployer plans. It’s an expensive proposition, perceived by many as a bailout, that gained little support from Republicans last Congress and stands little chance in the Senate.

Multiemployer pensions are private pension plans funded by multiple employers and negotiated by labor unions.

The Brown bill was among those considered last year by a joint House-Senate pension “supercommittee” that Brown co-chaired with retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah). The committee was tasked with addressing the looming insolvency of multiemployer plans like the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund and the United Mine Workers’ Pensions & Retiree Health Care plan. But the supercommittee failed to reach an agreement before its Nov. 30 deadline.

The new bill has support from labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard.

Republicans criticize passage of the bill

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Republican Leader of the Committee on Education and Labor, released the following statement after Committee Chairman Bobby Scott invoked the nuclear option to shut down any debate or amendments to H.R. 397, the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act:

“This is an outrageous offense. This Committee has held one hearing on the issue, neglecting to fully examine such a drastic bill in a legislative hearing. We were stunned to hear on Friday that the Committee would be marking up a bill that hasn’t received full consideration of this panel.

“It is simply irresponsible to bring a bill addressing such a complex and far-reaching issue before the Committee for markup with only days notice. The Chairman complained about a delay in receiving amendments from Committee Republicans when no such notice is required by House Rules. However, Republicans extended the courtesy of two hours’ advance notice before they would have been considered. How can he reasonably expect Committee Republicans to respond to a 38-page ANS with 11 amendments outside of this Committee’s jurisdiction in such a timeframe?

“This action is virtually unprecedented in this Committee and in the House of Representatives. Democrats have stated that they wanted to work together in a bipartisan fashion. Today’s actions, stopping Republicans from offering amendments, is the ultimate partisan retaliation. How are we supposed to work together when half of the room is barred from participating?

“I find it frankly embarrassing that the Committee that was able to negotiate bipartisan multiemployer pension legislation in the not so distant past has succumbed to such tactics. In the end, these politically-motivated actions only delay meaningful help for the workers and retirees that are in desperate need of a solution from this body. Today, those workers were reduced to mere pawns in Speaker Pelosi’s vindictive hold on the House of Representatives.”