News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Congress needed prod from President Bush

President Bush apparently was paying attention last week when United Auto Workers Union members staged a one-day protest against auto parts maker Delphi.

In North Carolina this week, the president came out strongly for reforming defined pension plans so that companies can't go bankrupt and dump their obligation to retirees and future retirees.

"In our society, we've had some companies — big companies — go bankrupt, and workers at those companies know what I'm talking about," the president said at a Deere-Hitachi Construction Machinery plant near Greensboro.

He called federal rules that govern pensions confusing and misleading and said they allow companies to get around paying those obligations.

In town last week to address a Decatur/Morgan County Chamber of Commerce luncheon group, U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, called the practice "shameful." Yet Congress has pending legislation that, according to the president, would do even more to relax the rules on pensions.

One bill is in conference in the Senate and another one is making its way through the House.

The president promised he won't sign any bill that weakens pension funding.

Pensions have a safety net of sorts. When plans default, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. steps in to pay, but usually only a percentage of the promised benefit.

The PBGC operates on insurance premiums from companies with defined pension plans.

The problem today is that the PBGC is running a $22.8 billion deficit. That means taxpayers could have to shore up the fund that's supposed to guarantee that retirees get their checks.

With some 44 million workers in the plan, it is preposterous that Congress is in the process of weakening federal regulations.

But at least the president heard the cries for help from the picket lines, even if Congress hasn't.

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