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Pension Reform Moves Ahead In Congress

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Congress began the effort to reconcile differing bills on pension reform legislation Wednesday night after the House named its representatives to the Conference Committee.

The panel has its work cut out for it in drafting compromise legislation reforming the defined benefit system. The insurance industry’s main interest is in provisions in the legislation that, if included in the final legislation, would allow insurers to increase product offerings in the defined contribution market and reduce the paperwork involved in marketing products to that market.

“Getting to this point has taken years of lengthy discussions, meetings, hearings and markups, all of which underscore the importance of this issue to the American people,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “It’s essential that we modernize our pension rules to ensure employers and unions keep their promises to workers, retirees and their families. And in doing so, we will ensure that taxpayers aren’t stuck holding the bag in a multibillion dollar bailout of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.”

Boehner is among the House members working with the Senate on the pension bill, along with Education and the Workforce Committee chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee chair Sam Johnson, R-Texas, Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee vice-chair John Kline and Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio.

Boehner, the former chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, worked to help secure passage of the House bill, known as the Pension Protection Act, or H.R. 2830. The bill was approved by the House Dec. 15 by a vote of 294 to 132, with 70 Democrats supporting the bill.

Among the Senate conferees, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he looked forward to working on the bill but took issue with some of its provisions, most notably language that would allow firms administering a retirement plan to provide investment advice to plan participants.

“I believe that conflicted investment advice is not helpful,” said Baucus, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. “I believe that we should protect older workers when traditional defined benefit plans are converted to cash-balance plans. I believe that declining credit ratings are a better measurement of whether or not a company is in trouble than the funded status of a pension plan.”


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