PENSION FUNDING EQUITY ACT OF 2003
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Under the previous order, the Senate will resume consideration of H.R. 3108, which the clerk will report.
The legislative clerk read as follows:
A bill (H.R. 3108) to amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to temporarily replace the 30-year Treasury rate with a rate based on long-term corporate bonds for certain pension plan funding requirements and other provisions, and for other purposes.
Grassley amendment No. 2233, of a perfecting nature.
Kyl amendment No. 2234 (to amend No. 2233) to limit the liability of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation with respect to a plan for which a reduced deficit contribution is elected.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Massachusetts is recognized.
Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, during the last 3 years, we have seen too many good jobs leave this country, and Americans are ending up with lower pay for part-time jobs. Not only do these jobs pay much less, they are also much less likely to offer pension benefits. In fact, 3.3 million Americans have lost their pension coverage since 2000. In 2002, only 53.5 percent of our Nation's workers were participating in retirement plans, the lowest level in over a decade.
This means the degradation of jobs not only hurts Americans today, it will continue to hurt them for the rest of their lives and into their retirement and old age. Instead of adopting an every-worker-for-himself retirement policy, we should be encouraging the growth of secure pension plans for all workers. Fewer American workers than ever have a secure, defined benefit pension plan.
Only one in five workers today has a defined benefit plan compared with nearly 40 percent of workers in 1980. We must help low-wage workers and employees of small businesses, less than 10 percent of whom have pension coverage today.
Strengthening and expanding our pension system is our long-term goal. But first we must take the initial step of stabilizing the pension plans that exist today, which have been battered by the perfect storm of economic conditions over the last 3 years.
The amendment that Chairman Grassley, ranking Finance Committee member Senator Baucus, as well as the HELP Committee chairman, Senator Gregg, and I have offered is a moderate bipartisan measure to address these short-term problems. This amendment does not weaken existing pension funding rules. These are only temporary measures designed to give companies and workers some breathing room, to take steps to further protect these pension plans.
An editorial in today's Washington Post expressed concern about our amendment and its effect on the PBGC and the American taxpayers. It is very important to respond to these concerns because they stem from some misconceptions about how our pension funding system works.
First, additional obligations of the PBGC will not put taxpaying Americans at risk. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which ensures defined benefit plans, is a self-funded agency. It is not supported by taxpayer dollars; it is funded by premiums from employers and holds billions of dollars in assets.
Second, the PBGC's funding deficit, while serious, does not mean the agency cannot fulfill its mission. The PBGC has been in deficit before. The PBGC single employer program operated at a deficit for the first 16 years of its existence. The PBGC still holds billions of dollars in assets, and the agency reports that it has sufficient cash flow to cover benefit payments and other operating expenses and other liabilities for a number of years.
Also, the PBGC can and has operated at a surplus. During the Clinton economy, the PBGC not only shed its deficits, it gained a $10 billion surplus. What is more, the PBGC's multiemployer program operated at a surplus for over 20 years-until this year. When our economy improves, the financial outlook of the PBGC will improve as well.
We were also concerned about overburdening the PBGC. That is why we limited the DRC relief to companies with healthy pension plans in 2000. These are companies that have been hit by terrible economic circumstances, from which we believe they will recover. Companies that receive the DRC relief will still be responsible for their regular pension contributions, and they will be restricted from increasing benefits, thus making pension promises they cannot keep. They will also be required to keep up with the costs of current benefits so they won't fall further behind in their funding levels.
Finally, not passing this pension legislation will subject the PBGC to much greater risk than it faces today. Without the crucial three pieces that our legislation includes-temporary replacement of the 30-year Treasury bond rate, targeted deficit reduction contribution relief, and funding relief to multiemployer plans-far more pension plans would terminate, which would place additional burdens on the PBGC.
We want to improve our pension funding rules to ensure that companies adequately fund pension plans. We want to encourage companies to put more money into their pension plans when times are good, instead of only penalizing them with increased contributions when times are bad. However, we must first address the perfect storm that is battering our pension plans today. Once we have adopted this short-term solution, I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve and strengthen pensions for all America.
I thought I would take a few moments to talk about this perfect storm that has adversely impacted the pension system, and also the challenges it presents to our economy generally.
Madam President, 3.3 million Americans have lost their pension coverage since 2000. Only 53 percent of our Nation's workers are participating in a retirement plan, the lowest level in over a decade.
As I mentioned before, the three parts of the stool for the American workers, after they have lived a life of productivity and worked hard in the workplace, are: One, Social Security; two, their savings; and three, their pension programs. We have seen a decline in the number of Americans who are now covered.
The declining quality of jobs in our country also means declining benefits for American workers. Part-time and low-wage workers are far less likely to have a pension than full-time workers.
That is why we are concerned and why this legislation, as I pointed out previously, addresses the needs of nearly 35 million Americans who are covered by single-employer defined benefit pension plans and the 9.7 million Americans who are covered by multiemployer defined benefit plans, such as those who work in the construction industry who move from site to site over a year. That program was developed to make sure those workers will also have a defined benefit pension plan to provide a secure monthly benefit backed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. That is a great advantage of the defined benefit program.
What I am talking about in terms of the perfect storm is the economic factors which have been hurting defined pension plans: The prolonged downturn of the stock market during the Bush administration, the longest since the Great Depression; the extremely low 30-year Treasury bond interest rates-it may be good for some industries, if you are purchasing a car or a house, but in terms of its impact on pension plans, it has been extremely adverse-and the generally weak economic conditions, which means that companies cannot afford to make additional payments and pay the excise taxes imposed by our pension laws.
Smaller companies, medium-size companies, and even larger companies are hard pressed at this time because of the economic exigencies we are facing today. They believe they are under all of this pressure and they are unable to meet those responsibilities.
I point this out not only to explain the challenge we are facing with regard to pensions but how inconsistent this is with the remarks of our President in his State of the Union Address when he commented that this economy is strong and growing stronger and also pointed out that the pace of economic growth in the third quarter of 2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years.
As some of us have pointed out, this has been very good for Wall Street but really has not been so good for Main Street.
This chart shows what has happened, going back to 1949, when the U.S. economy recovered from a recession. This is a comparison of first quarter recovery.
Looking at the history, using identical figures-and this is done by EPI Analysis based upon BEA data-first of all, we see, going back to 1949, that wages increased in the first quarter by 16 percent; 10 percent in 1954; in 1958 by 10 percent; 7 percent in 1961; 6.8 percent in 1970; 7.8 percent in 1975; 9.21 percent in 1982; in 1991, 6.1 percent; and look at the year 2001, 1.5 percent. It is a pretty interesting indicator as to what is happening in the job market in terms of economic recovery, of which we heard so much during the State of the Union Address.
This chart is a comparison since 1949 of what has happened to wages for workers in the quarter the recession ended. What we see is that this 1.5 percent is so dramatically different from every other quarter that it is difficult for many of us to be enthusiastic about this as an economic indicator.
It is very interesting to look at where the resources have gone in the recovery. In the Bush economy, corporate profits ballooned compared to workers' wages. Look at this: In the early nineties, we saw workers' wages, as a percent of the economic recovery, were 60 percent; corporate profits, 39 percent. Workers' wages, 60 percent; corporate profits, 39 percent.
Now look what it is this year. In today's recovery, we find workers' wages represent 13 percent of the total recovery and profits 86 percent-profits 86 percent. When many of us talk about the recovery being good for Wall Street, this is it; bad for Main Street, this is it.
Where are the resources going? They are going to the profits of the corporation. They are not being returned to the workers. We see what has happened.
At the end of last week, I noted, when I got home, a very interesting CNN report on overwhelmed Americans. This is what they pointed out in their study and review:
Wages are stagnant, productivity is soaring, which means many Americans are effectively working more for less. And making matters even worse, millions of American workers now find themselves competing with cheaper foreign labor just to hold on to their jobs.
Then it quotes Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor from Cornell University, talking about American workers:
They are frightened because they wake up each morning and they don't know whether their job is going to be outsourced, downsized, contracted out or eliminated. They are overwhelmed because they feel like forces way beyond their control are making the decisions that affect their lives. And they are exhausted because they are working harder and longer and faster just to stand still.
I showed those other charts that say American workers are working longer and harder than any other industrial society in the world. Not only are workers working longer and harder, but it's all hands on deck both men and women, moms and dads are working longer and harder just to try to stay even.
The report goes on:
In growing numbers, workers are feeling overworked, underappreciated, and burned out. That's according to a recent study of 1,100 workers that concluded "Emotion about the current work experience is extremely negative."
In the Wall Street Journal on Friday, January 23, we saw a lead story.
"The Gap in Wages Is Growing Again for U.S. Workers.
"Inequality Is Seen as a Result of the Jobless Recovery; Potential Election Theme."
Wage inequality-the gap between America's highest and lowest earners-has started widening again, a situation with election-year ramifications.
The trend is a reflection of the job market's exceptionally weak response to the current economic recovery.
This is the Wall Street Journal. This is not just an article by some Democratic study group. This is the Wall Street Journal, their studies. It says:
The trend is a reflection of the job market's exceptionally weak response to the current economic recovery, as well as long-term technological and economic changes that have eroded the bargaining power of America's lowest-paid workers. The data show that young workers-who currently have fewer job prospects than a few years ago-and men, in particular are bearing the brunt . . .
The numbers continue a movement to greater wage inequality that began around the time President Bush succeeded President Clinton and the economy slid into recession three years ago. The trend represents a reversal from the late 1990s, when the lowest unemployment rates in a generation had enabled the lowest-paid workers to keep pace with those at the top.
This is the real state of the Union. I am reminded of the study that just came out at the end of last week from the Economic Policy Institute, a January 21st study.
I will explain this chart. Basically it says the jobs that are being created, the few jobs that are being created-the estimate by the administration is it is going to be 300,000. They created 1,000 jobs this last month. The jobs that are being created are not as good as the jobs lost under this administration.
This chart shows that in 48 of the 50 States, jobs in higher paying industries have given way to jobs in lower paying industries since the recession ended in November 2001. Nationwide, industries that are gaining jobs relative to industries that are losing jobs pay 21 percent less annually. For the States that have lost jobs since the recession purportedly ended, this is the other shoe dropping. Not only have jobs been lost, but in 29 of them the losses have been concentrated in higher paying sectors. For 19 of the 20 States that have seen some small gain in jobs since the end of the recession, the jobs gained have been disproportionately in the lower paying sector.
They mentioned several States. One is the State of New Hampshire. Overall, 15,700 New Hampshire jobs have been lost since this President took office, and New Hampshire's unemployment rate has increased 54-percent under President Bush. The unemployment rate in New Hampshire was 4.3 percent in November 2003, up from 2.8 percent in January 2001. This change represents a 54-percent increase since President Bush took office.
According to the most recent State estimate, 6.1 percent of New Hampshire residents live in poverty, up from 5.5 percent in 2001. New Hampshire had lost a fifth of its manufacturing jobs since April of 2001. Under President Bush, the low-paying jobs are replacing the high-paying jobs in New Hampshire. The New England Economic Project recently estimated the sectors that lost the jobs between 2001 and 2002 in New Hampshire have an annual average wage of about $44,000. These sectors adding jobs in the State have an average wage of $38,000.
Over a third of the jobless people in New Hampshire used up their unemployment benefits before finding a new job. Madam President, here 26 percent of the people on unemployment in New Hampshire used up their benefit before finding new jobs. However, in September of 2003 nearly one-third were unable to find work by the time their benefits ended.
These are hard-working Americans who have paid into the unemployment fund, which has about $20 billion surplus at this time. There are 90,000 workers a week who are losing their unemployment insurance. That is happening up there in New Hampshire. We have tried more than a dozen times to get a temporary extension of 13 weeks. It costs about $7 billion. It has been objected to by the Republicans.
Real people are hurting. The unemployment filings in New Hampshire are the highest since 1992. From 2001 to 2003, the number of unemployment filings in New Hampshire was the highest it has been since 1992.
Of 240,000 New Hampshire taxpayers, 40 percent-and I mention this because in the State of the Union Address, the President talked about how we have doubled the child tax credit, reduced the marriage penalty, begun to phase out the debt, reduced taxes on capital gains, dividends, cut taxes on small businesses, have lowered taxes for every American who pays income tax.
Listen to this. In New Hampshire, 241,000 New Hampshire taxpayers, which is 40 percent of the New Hampshire taxpayers, will receive less than $100 from the Bush tax plan in 2004. The top 1 percent of New Hampshire taxpayers receive 28 percent of the benefits in 2004 and get an average tax cut of over $67,000.
Some people have asked why some of us were somewhat disappointed in the State of the Union Address and didn't jump up and applaud these figures. We take the State of the Union seriously. When you have that kind of result, in terms of the President's tax bill, one which I voted against for these very kinds of reasons, you begin to understand what is happening on Main Street of America.
Not only are we talking about the question of pensions, and we talk about jobs, let's think about what has been happening to the average workers with regard to their health care costs and their health care coverage. We have one in five workers who are uninsured and, when they are offered insurance, decline coverage because of the limitations of their wages and because of the costs of health insurance, which I will come back to. Sixty-five percent of the employers increased the amount workers pay for their health insurance and 47 percent of the employers increased the amount workers pay for prescription drugs and 34 percent of employers increased the cost share employees pay for office visits.
These are the pressures workers are under. That is why we have some 44 million Americans who do not have health insurance-members representing not only workers but family members of the workers. About 80 percent of all those who do not have health insurance are either workers or members of workers' families. That is why I believe if it is worker related in terms of trying to get coverage, we can make a major step in reducing the total number of those who are uncovered.
Look at what is happening to the costs, the premium costs versus the Consumer Price Index-the average cost of products. Look at what is happening. This is a comparison of costs for workers. In 1999, the Consumer Price Index was 2.7 percent but 5.3 percent for health care. The next year, 2000, 3.4, 8.2; 2001, 1.6, 10.9. The next year, 2002, 2.4, for the Consumer Price Index, 12.9. In 2001, 1.8, 13.9 percent increase in the cost of health insurance.
We wonder why workers cannot afford it and workers can't afford it. That is the real state of the Union. That is the real state of the Union.
To offer a refundable tax credit of $1,000 is laughable. I say it is like throwing a 5-foot rope to somebody who is in a boat 10 feet away and is about to go over Niagara Falls. It is virtually useless. These are costs that are impacting, affecting the costs of health care insurance and why workers cannot afford it.
What do we hear from the administration? What is their solution? Should someone tell us? Do I hear it? I looked hard in the President's State of the Union Address to find it. Do you know what it was? It was medical malpractice. That is their answer to all of the problems we are talking about, and the increase in costs. We will have a chance to get into that at some time. That is going to be the answer.
It isn't only the cost of health insurance. Look at what is happening to the families. These are family responsibilities. Workers have responsibilities. Parents don't want to be a burden. They worked hard. We guaranteed to the families in 1965 when we passed Medicare that we would attend to their health care needs. We didn't know prescription drugs would be so important. Every day that we fail to provide a comprehensive prescription drug program, we fail in our pledge to our seniors.
Look at what has happened to the prescription drug costs with respect to the Consumer Price Index: In 2000, 3.4 percent, and the average cost-of-living increase was 16 percent; in 2001, 1.67, and 15 percent; 2002, 2.4 percent, and 14 percent. We allegedly passed a prescription drug program. What did we say in that bill that would get a handle on costs? Virtually nothing. We prohibited the Secretary of HHS from being able to negotiate for lower prices. That is not true with VA; they can reduce prices down some 47 percent, but not with regard to Medicare because we were prohibited from that. I pay respect to my Democratic leader, Senator Daschle, and Congresswoman Pelosi for offering amendments which we will have a chance to address here very soon to change that.
We have to do something on the coverage, we have to do something on the costs, or we are not really looking after what is happening out on Main Street. We talk about jobs. We talk about health. Let us take a look at another issue families are very much concerned about; that is, the cost of education.
This is the Bush education record: Failure to provide tuition relief as college costs increase. On this chart, you find what 4-year costs for a college education are. This includes not only the tuition but it is room and board and the routine expenses with which students are faced. Look over here. In 2002, on help and assistance, these are for young people who come from families with limited means but have scholarships and are academically gifted, or are able to meet the academic standards and gain admission to these excellent schools all over the country. Look at what we see: Significant increase in the cost. Look at what help and assistance: Basically flat over the period of time.
These are family issues for working families concerned about the cost of prescription drugs that are being paid by their parents. These are family issues for working families who are concerned about the cost of having their children go to the fine schools across this country. We have left them high and dry.
If we look at the Bush economic record, the median household income is down effectively $1,500 across the country according to the Bureau of Census in the Department of Commerce; $1,500 for the year 2002, and a further decline beyond to 2004. That is what is happening out on Main Street. People are working harder, as these reports point out, and they are barely able to keep up. Millions are working and competing as well. As productivity goes up, they are working more for
less. We see that allocations of profits versus the wages.
We see the failure to respond to the needs of working families with regard to their health care costs or their children's education. These are all the issues which have been left behind. What has been the response to those urgent needs? It has been disappointing, at best.
First of all, there are 13 million children who are hungry. We have 8 million Americans who are unemployed. We have 8 million workers who lose overtime under the Bush proposal. We have 7 million low-wage workers who have been waiting 7 years for an increase in the minimum wage. We have 3 million more Americans in poverty since President Bush took office, and 90,000 workers a week are losing their unemployment benefits every week. We have tried and tried to get a temporary extension for these workers.
The decline in the economy is not the result of workers not working hard and producing. It is because of general overall economic mismanagement.
This country has always recognized that those workers pay into the unemployment compensation, and when there is a slide in the economy, they ought to be able to withdraw some of that. But there has been objection time in and time out by our Republican friends and virtually no leadership on this issue from the President.
More than three in four-77 percent-of the unemployed Americans say the level of stress in their family has increased. How do we measure that? We listened the other night to how our GNP is going up, with all of the favorable economic indicators. How do you measure the fact that in 77 percent of the unemployed families the level of stress in their family has increased? Two-thirds of those with children have cut back on spending for their children. Where is that indicated in any of these economic indicators we heard about in the State of the Union?
Twenty-six percent say another family member has had to start a job or increase their work hours in order to keep the family together, and 23 percent have had to interrupt their education or that of a family member. They had to drop out of school for a year, go back to work, and then come back and try to complete their education. That is what is happening out there.
We didn't hear about what is happening for average working families. If we had been able to extend the unemployment insurance, we could have avoided many of these indicators. But no, we were unable to do so.
What has been the impact by this administration saying no to extending unemployment compensation? No, we can't do that. What about those workers who worked hard for 40 hours a week and 52 weeks of the year? It has been 7 years since the last increase in the minimum wage. Now, at the end of this year, it will be at an all-time low.
A majority of the Members of this body would vote for an increase in the minimum wage, and we are not able to get it because of the Republican filibuster. That is the reason. Make no mistake about it.
Who are these people? These are men and women of great dignity. These people work hard. They take pride in what they do. They work cleaning out the great buildings that are the offices of American industry. Many of them are teacher's aides, or they work in child care. Many of them work in nursing homes to help look after a generation who brought this country out of the Depression and sacrificed for their children. They fought in the wars. Those are minimum wage workers. They are men and women of dignity. Most of them are women. This is a women's issue. Most of the women have children. So it is a children's issue. It is a family issue. Many of them are members of minorities. It is a civil rights issue.
Beyond all of that, Americans understand that if you work 40 hours a week for 52 weeks of the year, you should not have to live in poverty. You should not have to live in poverty. That is our belief. That is our standard.
We are going to take this issue to our Republican friends time in and time out all of this year. We welcome those listening to communicate to our Republican friends their views on this issue. Talk about a family issue. Talk about family values. How you care for your child, how much time you are able to spend with your child, talk about family values, this is it. And we have opposition from the Bush administration on this.
Finally, I mention again what is happening in terms of the overtime, opposition to extending unemployment compensation, opposition to an increase in the minimum wage, and then the rule and regulation that was debated in the Senate with Republicans and Democrats alike. Rejected. It went to the House of Representatives. Rejected. And then it was tucked into the omnibus bill behind closed doors in the dead of night and passed, although many Members strongly opposed it.
Who are the 8 million Americans who would lose their overtime? It is extraordinary with this economy for the administration to say that one of the principal problems with our economy today is the fact that these workers are being paid too much. They are saying these workers are being paid too much. Who are these workers? Police officers will lose their overtime under the definition of the administration. Police officers, nurses, and firefighters will lose their overtime.
Do we hear about homeland security? Who is on the front line of defense? It is the nurses, the firefighters, and the policemen. We are asking them to risk their lives in terms of homeland security yet on the other hand we will make them ineligible for overtime. Give me a break.
It is very interesting that so many are professions that involve women. Women will be very adversely affected. That is why organizations, including Nine-to-Five and all of the various women organizations, are so strongly opposed to the administration's proposal.
Not only did they do this but they added something new regarding who is made ineligible. That was to say if individuals had gone into the Armed Forces and they took training programs and then they come out and they have special skills-that is just what our military has today-that because they got these training programs, because they have special skills, they will by definition be ineligible for overtime.
Can anyone believe that, to say to those fighting overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, scattered around the world, when they come on back, they are in the National Guard and Reserve and they come on back in, if they have the special skills, they will not be eligible for overtime-for the first time in the history of this country.
Obviously, one of the great reasons we have the best military in the world is because it is the best trained, best led, and has the best technology. It should always be that way. When we are talking about the training, the training they receive saves other soldiers' lives and carries forward the interests of the United States.
I have my differences with the administration in terms of the Iraqi policy, but I am going to make sure these soldiers are well trained, well led, and have that kind of help and assistance. For those in the Armed Forces who have gone through the various training programs, quite frankly, it was a very important inducement for recruitment. I don't know what conversations the Secretary of Labor had with the Secretary of Defense. I would love to see the exchange of notes, and love to know if they ever had a conversation; obviously, it has a very important impact on recruitment.
With the failed economy, so many young people, see going into the military as a way to get the kind of training that will put them on the road to some kind of hope and opportunity in the future. Now we are saying: No, no, no; that is not going to be the way it is. You get the training, you come back, and you will not be able to get paid.
This is the final insult that the Bush administration would take away from the veterans, as I mentioned, the overtime pay. That would reduce the standard of living and quality of life of veterans in scientific, engineering, medical, and technical operations. Under the Bush administration, veterans who have received the training in the military, equivalent to a specialized 4-year degree, could be classified as exempt "professional employees" and would lose their overtime protection. This is a breach of faith with the American veterans, another reason it should be defeated. It was not.
Then, one of the most extraordinary publications that any agency has ever produced in the time I have been in the Senate was the Department of Labor issuing guidelines of how to avoid paying overtime. They said: The reason for having this change in the overtime is we are bringing more workers up, raising their wages. It will have a favorable impact on a certain number of workers. It will really not disadvantage all these estimated.
Then we find out what the real issue was: the publication by the Department of Labor about how to avoid paying any overtime, giving every business in this country the pathway to avoid paying any overtime. If they could not figure it out, all they had to do was read the Department of Labor recommendation and avoid it. Why? To shortchange American workers. State of the union of American workers, what is happening to their jobs, their wages, their health care, their education, and now we find out their overtime. That is "How to Avoid Paying Your Employees Overtime," courtesy of the Bush Department of Labor.
I will take a moment to read a letter from a veteran and a Boeing employee worried about losing his overtime.
My name is Randy Fleming. I live in Haysville, Kansas-outside Wichita-and I work as an Engineering Technician in Boeing's Metrology Lab.
I'm also proud to say that I'm a military veteran. I served in the U.S. Air Force from August 1973 until February 1979.
I've worked for Boeing for 23 years. During that time I've been able to build a good, solid life for my family and I've raised a son who now has a good career and children of his own. There are two things that helped make that possible.
First, the training I received in the Air Force made me qualified for a good civilian job. That was one of the main attractions when I enlisted as a young man back in Iowa. I think it's still one of the main reasons young people today decide to enlist. Military training opens up better job opportunities-and if you don't believe me, just look at the recruiting ads on TV.
The second thing is overtime pay. That's how I was able to give my son the college education that has opened doors for him. Some years, when the company was busy and I had those college bills to pay, overtime pay was probably 10% or more of my income. My daughter is next. Danielle is only 8, but we'll be counting on my overtime to help her get her college degree, too, when that time comes. For my family overtime pay has made all the difference.
That's where I'm coming from. Why did I come to Washington? I came to talk about an issue that is very important back home and to me personally as a working man, a family man, and a veteran. That issue is overtime rights.
The changes that this administration is trying to make in the overtime regulations would break the government's bargain with the men and women in the military and would close down opportunities that working vets and their families thought they could count on.
When I signed up back in 1973, the Air Force and I made a deal that I thought was fair. They got a chunk of my time and I got training to help me build the rest of my life. There was no part of that deal that said I would have to give up my right to overtime pay. You've heard of the marriage penalty? Well I think that what these new rules do is to create a military penalty. If you got your training in the military, no matter what your white collar profession is, your employer can make you work as many hours as they want and not pay you a dime extra.
If that's not bait and switch, I don't know what is.
And I don't have any doubt that employers will take advantage of this new opportunity to cut our overtime pay. They'll tell us they have to in order compete. They'll say if they can't take our overtime pay, they'll have to eliminate our jobs.
It won't be just the bad employers, either-because these rules will make it very hard for companies to do the right thing. If they can get as many overtime hours as they want for free instead of paying us time-and-a-half, they'll say they owe it to the stockholders. And the veterans and other working people will be stuck with less time, less money, and a broken deal.
I'm luckier than some other veterans because I have a union contract that will protect my rights for a while anyway. But we know the pressure will be on, because my employer is one that pushed for these new rules and they've been trying hard to get rid of our union.
And for all those who want to let these military penalty rules go through, I have a deal I'd like to propose. If you think it's okay for the government to renege on its deals, I think it should be your job to tell our military men and women in Iraq that when they come home, their service of their country will be used as a way to cut their overtime pay.
That says it all. This Senate rejected the administration's proposal. The House of Representatives rejected it. But the Bush administration insists they are going to implement it. And they insisted in taking the Senate passed, House approved language protecting workers' overtime pay out of the Omnibus.
We are going to do everything we can, with every opportunity we have, to make sure that provision is overturned. We will do that every time we get a chance as long as we are in Congress this session.
I will just take a minute to show what happens when people do not have the overtime protection.
It is probably pretty understandable, workers without overtime protection are more than twice as likely to work longer hours. This chart shows that for those workers working a scheduled 40-hour workweek, without the overtime protection, 44 percent of them work overtime. If they have overtime protection, in terms of time and a half, only 19 percent of them work overtime. If there is no overtime protection for workers if they work over 50 hours a week, still, you get 15 percent of the workers who work more than 50 hours in a week; but with overtime protection, only 5 percent work overtime. It is very clear what is going to happen to workers without overtime protection: They are going to work harder-a lot harder-and make a good deal less money.
Is overtime protection what is wrong with our economy? Absolutely not. I think this administration and this Congress ought to get it: People are hurting. And they are trying to find out who is on their side. We are going to address each and every one of these issues in the course of this Congress because that is required if we are going to be a fair and decent country.
Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.