Top Democrats joined with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on Wednesday to demand that the government spending bill include rescues for struggling pension plans such as the Teamsters' Central States plan.
"At the same time that we are doing a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich we ought to be able to find a few billions for workers' pensions," Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said at a rally Wednesday on Capitol Hill hosted by the Teamsters. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were among those who attended the event.
Democrats said they were making pension plan rescues one of the demands for reaching a deal with the Republican leadership on the spending package. "Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi have made it clear to the president and the Republican leadership that the end-of-the-year spending bill has got to include the Butch Lewis Act," said Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., referring to the main legislative vehicle to aid ailing pension funds. The legislation, authored by Sen Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would direct the Treasury Department to loan funds to ailing plans at very low interest rates.
Pelosi did not guarantee success however, saying instead that "we will try" to add the legislation at every opportunity. A short-term government funding bill runs out Dec. 22.
Many pension programs, especially multiemployer ones, are drastically underfunded. Thomas Reeder, director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, told a congressional panel last month that pension premiums paid into his organization had been "too low for too long" to insure the nation's pension plans.
The PBGC's multiemployer plan covers 10 million workers and retirees in about 1,400 plans. It has liabilities of $67.3 billion but assets of just $2.3 billion to cover them. One of the most troubled is the Teamsters Central States fund, which was listed as in "critical and declining status" earlier this year by the Labor Department. The maximum a person can receive from the PBGC should a plan fail is about $13,000.
The Trump administration has proposed adding a variable rate premium on unfunded benefits and an exit premium on companies that withdraw from the plans. It estimates that would add $16 billion to the PBGC's program over the next decade. That is still far short of what would be needed to cover the obligations, but it would buy time to get fuller solution, the administration has said.