WASHINGTON - Just as the ink dries on legislation passed last month to speed up funding for underfunded pension plans, one congressman introduced three new pension funding bills, not so much to get them passed, but to win jurisdiction over pension issues.
In January, Rep. Harris W. Fawell, R-Ill., introduced three bills - which mirror old proposals - on the first day of the 104th Congress.
Sources said Mr. Fawell, who chairs the new Subcommittee on Employee-Employer Relations, is not trying to get these bills passed, but is trying to establish jurisdiction over issues involving the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
"He wants to signal that this is the committee where it all should start," one source said.
The introduction of the three bills is to provide a forum to discuss whether the new pension funding provisions passed last month as part of legislation to implement the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade work. If there is any challenge to the GATT provisions dealing with pension fund reform, the new Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee - of which Mr. Fawell's subcommittee is part - would be the first to discuss the issues.
"Even though the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade legislation enacted last year included significant reforms of the (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.) termination insurance program, I believe it is essential that we closely monitor how these changes affect defined benefit pension plans and the goals set forth under ERISA for the PBGC," Mr. Fawell said when he introduced the bills Jan. 4.
"We think that the various provisions contained in (past proposals) can serve as a valuable tool to assess the progress and effectiveness of the termination insurance programs administered by the PBGC," Mr. Fawell said.
According to new House rules that outline procedures, bills can only be referred to one committee at a time. The bills Mr. Fawell introduced (H.R. 35, 36 and 37) have been referred to his subcommittee's head, the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee (formerly the Education and Labor Committee). One of the bills, H.R. 36, which was jointly introduced by Mr. Fawell and Rep. Larry Combest, R-Texas, will be sent to the Judiciary Committee after the Opportunities committee has finished its work. The Judiciary Committee will take a look at the bankruptcy provisions of the bill.
In the House, the Ways and Means Committee and the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee usually have shared jurisdiction on ERISA issues. Ways and Means normally handled tax aspects related to pension plans, where the second committee handled fiduciary and labor issues.
Some say Mr. Fawell is trying to hold his ground because the negotiations for The Retirement Protection Act passed last year mainly were handled by Ways and Means - mostly because GATT, which contained the Retirement Protection Act, was slated as a tax bill.
But excluding the Opportunities Committee will not be so easy, sources said. By introducing these bills quickly, Mr. Fawell sends a signal to the other committees that Mr. Fawell and the Opportunities Committee are clearly interested in ERISA issues, sources said.