WASHINGTON – The House is abandoning plans to move in the waning days of this congressional session on major legislation to shore up the financially troubled employer-based pensions systems, a Republican leader said Tuesday.
Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said there was "really no likelihood" that the House would vote any time soon on a bill to overhaul traditional defined-benefit pension plans.
The Senate last month, on a 97-2 vote, approved its version of the legislation that tightens rules for companies that underfund their pension funds while strengthening the future financial viability of the federal agency that insures pension plans for some 44 million Americans.
Blunt and Democratic leaders blamed each other for the failure to move on the pensions issue.
Blunt, at a news conference, said there wasn't time to act on pensions unless "some Democrats step forward and say they want to be part of that pension solution.... It hasn't happened yet."
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the pensions crisis in America needs to be addressed, but "again, we have another demonstration of a refusal of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives to work with others to come to consensus on a problem that we must solve."
He said the Democratic leadership was going to urge its members to vote against the bill that came out of the Education and Workforce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee
Education Committee Chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio, "and others continue to build and maintain a broad range of support for passing the Pension Protection Act among both employers and unions," said his spokesman, Kevin Smith. "We stand ready to debate and pass this bill whenever the leadership decides to schedule a vote. Congress has a responsibility to address this pension crisis."
Thomas Kiley, spokesman for the top Democrat on the committee, George Miller of California, said Democrats were concerned that the House bill would in the long run be determinental to the health of the pensions system. "We weren't going to go along with legislation that not only doesn't improve the situation but actually makes it worse," he said.
Congressional leaders had seen the pensions bill as a significant way, in the wake of the failure to gain support for Social Security reform, of showing the administration's efforts to protect the retirement security of American workers.
The bill would have tightened rules to stop companies from underfunding their plans — a shortfall currently estimated at $450 billion — while raising the premiums that companies must pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
The PBGC, which operates on those premiums, recently estimated that it is in deficit by about $22 billion.