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Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - May 11, 2006)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, today Senators REID, BAUCUS, BINGAMAN, HARKIN, MIKULSKI and CANTWELL join me in introducing legislation to protect the pensions and health care of America's nuclear defense and energy workers who provide critical services to support our national defense and energy security.

Our bill reverses a policy the Bush administration recently issued to eliminate secure pensions and good health care for workers under Department of Energy contracts. This policy is bad for workers and bad for business. By attacking their secure pensions and quality health care benefits, this administration is undermining our government's ability to protect our Nation and strengthen our economy. And it is broadcasting a message that American workers' secure retirement and good health care should be put on the chopping block. The Federal Government should be setting a good example with strong benefits for workers, instead of leading a race to the bottom.

By refusing to cover the costs for secure pensions, this administration is forcing contractors to put their employees into defined contribution plans. Workers will bear the risks of uncertain stock markets and the risk of outliving their savings. And businesses, instead of being free to choose which type of retirement plan is best for their workers, will be forced into a one-size-fits-all model.

The American Academy of Actuaries, the professionals who understand as well as anyone the benefit system in America, strongly objects to the Department's new policy, pointing out that it takes away contractors' ability to choose the type of benefit plans offered to workers and undermines retirement security. They urge that this policy be immediately rescinded.

This is a particular concern given the timing of this announcement. Right now we have a pension bill in conference designed to strengthen the defined benefit pension system.

At this critical time, the administration should be supporting the growth and expansion of the defined benefit pension system. But instead it is going the other way, by forcing businesses to abandon defined benefit pension plans. This says to me that this President is not committed to a secure retirement for Americans. First he tried to privatize Social Security; now he's trying to use our federal contracting system to do the same with our Nation's nuclear defense workers.

The administration is also attacking employer-provided health care, by saying the government will not pay more than the average in the industry for health care costs under Department of Energy contracts. In other words, it will pay only the average or below.

And the quality health care benefits Department of Energy contractors offer workers will have to be replaced by limited medical plans that unfairly penalize the least healthy workers.

These high deductible plans don't work for people who need health care the most. Persons with chronic health conditions or who are hit with illness or injury will have to pay significantly more than they would with the comprehensive insurance that the administration's proposal eliminates. These individuals will never be able to find the funds to cover the care they need before meeting the high-deductible needed for their plan to cover them. Is this how we want to treat American workers?

If the President's goal is to cut spending for health care, this is the wrong way to go about it. Workers with the kind of high-deductible health plan President Bush has mandated for Department of Energy contractors are more likely to avoid, skip or delay the care that prevents a medical crisis. This means workers will get care when they are sicker and may need costly hospital or emergency room care. Shifting costs to workers drives up costs instead of cutting them.

Last week Senator REID, Senators BAUCUS, BINGAMAN, HARKIN, MIKULSKI, CANTWELL, MURRAY and I sent a letter to the White House calling on the President to overturn this ill-conceived policy and call off his attack on the retirement security and health care of these skilled workers. We hope that the President will reconsider. But if he does not, we will be looking for every opportunity to address this issue through this legislation. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

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