2 senators end bid to block pension reform bill

November 11, 2005|By GWYNETH K. SHAW | GWYNETH K. SHAW,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON — Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Mike DeWine said yesterday that they had dropped their efforts to block a pension reform bill from reaching the Senate floor, a move that could revive the stalled legislation.

Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, and DeWine, a Republican from Ohio, objected to a provision in the Senate version of the bill that would require companies with poor credit ratings to put more money into their pension plans than healthier companies.

They claimed the requirement could harm companies trying to come back from financial trouble such as steel mills, auto manufacturers and technology firms and force them into bankruptcy. The effort was supported by the business lobby as well as labor unions.

In a statement, Mikulski did not say whether she and DeWine had gotten what they asked for: a vote on the provision on the Senate floor.

But, she said, they had had constructive conversations with their colleagues in the Senate. A key House committee passed its version of the legislation Wednesday, and Mikulski said that bill could be a better option.

"I believe we can work together in conference to protect workers pensions, to protect good-guy businesses and to protect the American taxpayer," Mikulski said.

"I am also pleased that the House bills include some of the key provisions that we are fighting for," Mikulski said.

The legislation, crafted after a number of bankruptcies left longtime employees without the pensions they were promised, is intended to both tighten the rules on employers and shore up the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the governments insurance agency for pensions.

The PBGC is $23 billion in debt, largely because of the failure of airlines and steel companies.

When Mikulski and DeWine blocked the bill using the privilege granted to every senator to single-handedly stall legislation in early October, the legislation appeared doomed, at least until next year. It was unclear last night when, or if, the Senate would consider the bill.

gwyneth.shaw@baltsun.com

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