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Gathering Storm Has Sen. Reid Making Promises on Pension Reform

February 8, 2010

CARSON CITY, Nev. - Debating the value of time was on the table all weekend for the Senate Finance Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) says he expects the committee to come up with a way to grant some companies more time to fully fund pensions. Congress got tough on those requirements in 2006 to protect long-time employees' benefits and taxpayers, who had to foot the bill for some plans that companies didn't fully fund. But with pension plan values in the dumps because of the economy, things have changed.

James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, says fully funding those pensions is still the goal - it's just that some companies need more time to do it.

"For some companies, it's going to mean meeting their pension obligations or holding on to their employees. And we certainly don't need any measures that will cause further job losses."

AFL-CIO leaders have agreed that relief is probably needed for some companies, but that not all should receive the same level of help. And they join other organized labor groups that want some kind of oversight on how the money saved is used - so it's not invested, for example, in a project to move more American jobs overseas. A pension-relief bill was introduced in the House last week.

Klein says the situation has caught a lot of people off guard, which is why Congress is taking a serious look at options.

"Many companies that had over-funded pension plans a year-and-a-half ago, today find themselves having to make huge infusions of cash into those plans at the worst possible time."

The House bill is the "Preserve Benefits and Jobs Act."

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV