After correctly voting down legislation that would have slashed taxes for the wealthiest heirs in the country while also providing a minimum wage increase (which actually might have amounted to a pay cut for some minimum wage earners), the Senate tonight finally passed legislation reforming the nation's pension laws, as the AP's Jim Abrams reports.
The Senate approved and sent to the White House pension legislation to give millions of Americans a better chance of getting the retirement benefits they've earned while sparing taxpayers from possibly paying for failed pension plans.
The legislation, passed 93-5 late Thursday, also provides new incentives for young workers to enroll in 401(k) plans, reflecting the trend away from traditional employer-based pensions.
"There is little doubt this bill will be the foundation on which the future of our retirement system rests," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
How good of a foundation will this bill provide to the country's retirement system? As I noted back in March, there are serious questions as to whether this bill will help or hurt America's pensions. At the time, The New York Times's Mary Williams Walsh wrote,
On top of those changes, companies also persuaded lawmakers to add dozens of specific measures, including a multibillion-dollar escape clause for the nation's airlines and a special exemption for the makers of Smithfield Farms hams.
As a result, the bill now being completed in a House-Senate conference committee, rather than strengthening the pension system, would actually weaken it, according to a little-noticed analysis by the government's pension agency. The agency's report projects that the House and Senate bills would lower corporate contributions to the already underfinanced pension system by $140 billion to $160 billion in the next three years. [emphasis added]
As best I can tell from Abrams' AP report tonight, the airline expemptions are still a part of the bill, though Abrams does not seem to mention Smithfield Farms. Either way, Congress should have gone on recess before tonight instead of passing legislation that has the potential to weaken, rather than stregthen pensions.
More broadly, with one month or perhaps two remaining for Congress to pass legislation before the midterm elections, it seems clear to me now that the Democrats should not extend any effort to help the Republicans pass legislation -- particularly legislation that has possible negative ramifications. While I do not believe that Senate Dems should simply filibuster the rest of the summer and fall, on areas of legislation that can wait until the next Congress, the Democrats should do just that. It's hard to imagine the next Congress not being more progressive than the current one -- even if just slightly -- so why not, when possible, wait out the clock until January when a more reasonable Congress emerges and more sensible legislation can be enacted? True, the Democrats do not want to be portrayed as obstructionists, especially for partisan gain, but if they can maintain a fair balance and not allow the Republicans to pass awful bills in what might be their last hours in control of both or either chamber of Congress, then they should do so.