Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, today indicated he might hold a hearing on the termination of United Airlines' pension plans. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., requested the hearing during a committee discussion on Mr. Boehner's Pension Protection Act, which aims to shore up the PBGC by increasing insurance premiums and ensuring pension plans are better funded, as well as updating pension funding rules.
Mr. Boehner also left open the possibility of adding a provision in the legislation that would offer the airlines an extension on funding the shortfall in their pension funds. "Our immediate focus has been on overhauling broken pension laws that contributed to the problems in the airline industry and similar industries, but I would prefer to focus on comprehensive solutions in addressing this problem," he said. However, Mr. Boehner acknowledged that he's mindful that a funding break for airlines is important to other lawmakers, notably Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a fellow committee member, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who recently introduced legislation that would permit airlines to stretch out pension contributions over more years than permitted under current law.
Messrs. Price and Isakson are both concerned about Delta Air Lines Inc., the Atlanta-based airline that has said it might terminate its pension fund unless it gets help from lawmakers to stretch out pension contributions. "I have a lot of respect for what they are trying to accomplish and understand the impact of this issue to many of their constituents. I want to work with them on pension reform as we move forward," Mr. Boehner added.
Mr. Boehner's statement also reflects a potential willingness to compromise with the Senate, which is expected to include an airline-specific provision in its version of the pension bill later this year, in order to ensure passage of pension legislation this year.
But Mr. Boehner declined repeated efforts by Mr. Miller to make public confidential financial information filed by companies with more than $50 million in pension fund shortfalls.