Senators include committee to fix multiemployer plans in budget deal

The two-year budget deal reached by the Senate this week would create a select committee tasked with solving the multiemployer pension crisis.

The provision was secured by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who said the pension plans covering more than 1.5 million union workers nationwide are on the brink of failure.

The federal entity that covers failed union plans, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Fund, is also in crisis, facing a $65 billion funding shortfall that it says could leave it insolvent by 2025.

The committee would be made up of six House and six Senate leaders, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. They would be required to hold at least five public meetings, at least one of which would have to be outside Washington.

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The U.S. Capitol stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. Ways and Means Republicans were briefed Thursday morning on changes Chairman Kevin Brady plans on introducing later in the day, but the legislative text hasn't been finalized, according to a Republican on the the panel. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The committee would have until November to draft a bill. If at least four members from each party agree on the proposal, there would be a guaranteed vote in both chambers with no amendments.

“Washington bailed out Wall Street, and Wall Street turned around and stole the pensions Ohioans worked for,” Brown said in a press release. “Now Congress has responsibility to protect the pensions workers earned before it is too late.

Also see:Who really loses when a multiemployer pension plan fails?

“While it is not the immediate solution we hoped for, this Committee will force Congress to finally treat the pension crisis with the seriousness and urgency American workers deserve.”

Brown has for years been fighting to solve the multiemployer pension crisis, and recently introduced the Butch Lewis Act, named for a retired Ohio Teamster from West Chester who died while fighting benefit cuts.

Bipartisan support

Brown says creation of the Select Committee will force both Houses of Congress to consider his proposal and produce a bipartisan solution.

Brown’s Republican counterpart from Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman, called the proposal “encouraging news.”

"Over the past several years, I've consistently made clear to my colleagues that there is a looming multiemployer pension crisis in America, and responsible reforms are needed to protect retiree benefits, ensure the solvency of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and allow participating employers to remain competitive," Portman said.

"I've continued to engage in discussions with Senator Brown and all stakeholders, and we must put politics aside and find a workable solution."

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