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Pension Funds

Multiemployer pension reform effort launches in Washington

A congressional effort to solve a multiemployer pension fund crisis got underway Wednesday with the first meeting of a special joint select committee of House and Senate members, where co-Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned that the biggest impediment to a solution was the potential for "partisan arguments and political posturing."

The sense of urgency and need for bipartisanship was underscored Wednesday in a joint statement of principles from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans aimed at helping legislators reach a solution before a November deadline.

Those principles are that rescue legislation is urgently needed; financial assistance through loans are a necessary part of reform; all parties should contribute to the resolution; Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. premium increases should not be considered before other solvency tools are in place; and composite plan legislation will be necessary for some plans to remain solvent.

"The multiemployer crisis is a threat to the overall economy," said Aliya Wong, executive director of retirement policy for the Chamber of Commerce, in the statement. NCCMP Executive Director Michael Scott added in the statement that the issues are also "deeply interconnected" with federal government revenues. "The committee will have to make very difficult decisions on legislative solutions to this crisis, recognizing that inaction is a decision that would itself have serious consequences," he said.

In 2015, the multiemployer system generated $2.2 trillion in economic activity to the U.S. economy, paid $158 billion in federal taxes, $82 billion in state and local taxes, supported 13.6 million American jobs and contributed more than $1 trillion to U.S. GDP, including $41 billion in pension payments and $203 billion in wages to active employees, the two groups said.

The joint select committee is required to hold public hearings, including at least one field hearing, and to vote on legislative recommendations by Nov. 30. It will be dissolved by Dec. 31.

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Richard Neal, D-Mass. said at the meeting that the effort "might be the most important thing that we do. … We have a chance to put together a workable plan."