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Pension Protection Act of 2005

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


PENSION PROTECTION ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - December 15, 2005)

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Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the so-called pension ``reform'' bill today on the House Floor.

The bill before us today fails to address fundamental problems that have robbed millions of hard-working Americans of the retirement benefits they have earned. This Republican bill will not prevent companies from dumping their pension plans onto the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), which already is burdened with a $23 billion deficit and may have to be bailed out by taxpayers. This bill does nothing to protect older workers when their pension plan is converted to a ``cash-balance'' plan that could short-change them of the benefits they have accrued. This bill also contains provisions that increase the costs and regulations for companies to maintain pension plans to the point that many companies will freeze or abandon their plans, accelerating the growing pension crisis.

Democrats were not permitted to offer amendments to improve this bill. While I cannot support this flawed, misguided Republican bill, I support the Democratic Substitute offered by Representative MILLER, Representative RANGEL and Representative CARDIN. The Democratic Substitute would stabilize existing pension plans by extending for 2 years the corporate-bond-rate used to determine PBGC liabilities, encourage employers to maintain defined benefit plans without cuts in workers' pension benefits, and protect older workers during cash-balance conversions.

As the pensions of workers remain at risk, I am concerned about conflicts-of-interest, hidden financial arrangements and unlawful activities that may be causing or contributing to the poor financial health of pension plans at companies across the country. In May 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a report, ``Examinations of Select Pension Consultants'', that revealed significant conflict-of-interest and non-disclosure issues within the pension plan consultant industry. Specifically, the SEC found, among other conclusions, that:

[P]ension consultants may steer clients to hire certain money managers and other vendors based on the pension consultant's (or affiliate's) other business relationships and receipt of fees from these firms, rather than because the money manager is best-suited to the client's needs. Such a conflict can compromise the fiduciary duty that investment advisers owe their clients.

The findings included in the Commission's report are particularly disturbing for pension plan beneficiaries, whose benefit payments are dependent upon their plan management's diligent performance of its fiduciary duties, and for the Federal Government, which is faced with an enormous deficit at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) as a result of a series of massive corporate bankruptcies that have resulted in PBGC assumption of severely underfunded pension plans terminated when the corporations entered bankruptcy.

Representative MILLER and I have requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate whether the Federal Government is aggressively regulating and enforcing statutes intended to protect pension plans and their beneficiaries from conflicts-of-interest and similar undisclosed relationships that can impair pension fund returns. We have urged GAO to examine whether any of the 3,500 terminated pension plans that are now the responsibility of the PBGC may have been adversely affected--prior to PBGC assumption ofthe plans' liabilities--by the types of conflicts and hidden financial arrangements uncovered by the SEC.

I am hopeful that the pension legislation considered today by the House will be greatly improved during the conference with the Senate, so that we can have a vote on pension reform legislation that actually addresses the real problems that exist in the current system. Additionally, I look forward to GAO's work in the important area of pension fund consultants. The ongoing crisis in the pension fund marketplace requires a thorough, independent review to identify problems with government regulation and enforcement and recommend improvements. American workers have relied on the pension promises of their employers. It is unconscionable to abandon these workers.

I urge a ``no'' vote on this Republican pension bill, and a ``yes'' vote on the Democratic Substitute.

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