Senate Republicans have vowed to stop pension cuts allowed under a rule a passed by the Democratic-led Senate and signed by President Obama in 2014.
Teamsters retirees protested the proposed pension cuts by the Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund (CSPF) on Capitol Hill. The cuts, which are permitted under the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, could be approved or rejected by the Treasury Department on or before May 7.
Provisions of the legislation were signed into law by President Obama in December 2014 as part of the omnibus bill.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) addressed the Teamsters at the rally, pledging to fight for the reversal of the law that allowed the proposal of the pension cuts.
“I’ve been working with these folks ever since it passed. Ohio is one of the states that’s been impacted particularly hard. We’ve got a lot of Teamsters who are retired in Ohio,” he told PJM.
“This is not a public pension; this is a private pension. You heard me say we all know Central States is in trouble and not everybody wants to hear that but it’s true, they know that, the people in Ohio know, they get that, they know something has to be done, but this is not fair,” he added.
PJM asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who also delivered a speech at the rally, why he thinks more Republicans should fight to reverse the pension cuts.
“I would not only be supporting the Teamsters in what I am doing. I’m supporting the principle that the public’s business ought to be public and this stuff that was done, we don’t know what happened. We need to get the facts out not only to help the Teamsters but also to make sure that our bureaucrats execute the law the way they are supposed to and that people just don’t get hurt in the future,” Grassley said. “I know you don’t believe this, but Republicans have as much interest in helping people — it’s just, kind of, how you do it.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, lamented “anti-union jihads” in government that oppose collective bargaining. Brown was asked to whom he was referring with his comments at the rally.
“I don’t know what I said. I just talked up there,” Brown responded. “I see so many Republicans here that are anti-union. They attack unions. They attack collective bargaining. They went after collective bargaining in my state. They’re ‘right to work.’ They’re against prevailing wage and we need them on board.”
When asked why the Democratic-led Senate supported the omnibus bill that included provisions of the pension reform bill, Brown said, “They’re not perfect. I understand that.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) was asked how Democrats justify their opposition to a law that was passed by a Democratic-led Senate.
“I don’t think I need to justify it. I think this got plugged into something at the last minute. People knew what they were doing. It was designed to divide and conquer, and you know what? Anything we did we can undo when we find out we’ve done something wrong,” she said. “One of the problems here is people don’t do that enough. They don’t say, ‘that didn’t work, let’s stop doing it.’”
Heitkamp also said she would like to see the White House get involved in the issue.
“I think the entire Senate should be involved in this issue. What’s happening to these pensioners is a human tragedy,” she said.