www.DukeEmployees.com - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
Legislation - Page One
it was just a mile down the road with a Dome on it." - Abraham Lincoln
New York Times - By PHILIP SHENON - March 8, 2001
Senate sponsors of a bill to overhaul the nation's bankruptcy system and make it harder for people to wipe out their debts won a major victory today, soundly rejecting a pair of amendments that would have limited the ability of credit card companies and large creditors to seek repayment.
The votes on the Senate floor were an early disappointment for a group of Senate Democrats who have sought to rewrite or kill the bill, which they describe as a gift to the credit card and banking industries and their powerful lobbyists on Capitol Hill.
The bill has already been approved by the House, and President Bush has said through aides that he would likely sign the legislation, which its sponsors say is an effort to end abuses of the bankruptcy system by people who are able to repay some of their debts but do not.
President Bill Clinton vetoed a similar bill last year, describing it as too onerous on debtors. The Senate debate on the bill is likely to continue into next week.
One of the amendments defeated today would have allowed people who are forced into bankruptcy by medical bills to be excused from paying debts; it was defeated on a vote of 65 to 34.
The other amendment would have given small businesses priority over credit card companies and other large creditors in being repaid in bankruptcy cases. It was effectively killed when senators voted to table, or set aside, the amendment on a vote of 58 to 41.
The overall bill would block many people from filing for so-called Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which allows them to wipe out their debts, and force them instead into Chapter 13, which requires some repayment.
The debate over the amendments and the overall bill became heated at times, with opponents describing the legislation as testament to the power of political contributions by the credit card and banking industries. "The credit card industry showered senators and the political parties, and it shows," said Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin.
New York Times - By PAUL KRUGMAN - March 7, 2001
Call it a "Bush trillion." It's a sum that is either much more or much less than $1 trillion — whichever is convenient — but one that George W. Bush thinks he can get away with calling "a trillion dollars" in speeches.
During the campaign Mr. Bush, to emphasize his moderation, claimed that he was matching a trillion dollars in tax cuts with a trillion dollars of new spending. In fact he proposed less than half a trillion in new programs, and now he proposes no real increase in spending at all. The tax cut, on the other hand, turns out to be $1.6 trillion, except that it's really $2 trillion once you count the interest costs. And it will be $2.5 trillion if it is accelerated, something Mr. Bush has urged but not factored into his numbers, and if a major wrinkle involving the alternative minimum tax is ironed out.
Meanwhile Mr. Bush has come up with another trillion, this time his "trillion-dollar contingency fund." It comes as no surprise that the actual number in his budget is only a bit more than $800 billion. And more than half of that consists of funds that Medicare was supposed to be setting aside for the needs of an aging population. So maybe we also need to define a "Bush contingency," as in: "Gee, people might get older, and they might have medical expenses. We can't be sure — but it could happen."
Which brings us to the question of identifying the victims.
For there will be victims. The latest line from tax-cut supporters is that this isn't really a big cut, that we can easily afford it. But if that were true, Mr. Bush would be able to justify his plans with honest accounting, and would be able to honor his own party's promises to protect the retirement trust funds. Yes, his cut is somewhat smaller as a share of G.D.P. than Ronald Reagan's. But Mr. Reagan's tax cut was a fiscal disaster, and would have been even worse had his irresponsibility not been partly offset by increases in the payroll tax that finances Social Security and Medicare.
So who will be hurt? First, of course, the usual suspects: the poor and near-poor, who, because they pay no income tax (though they pay quite a lot in other taxes), will get nothing from the tax cut but will bear the brunt of the spending austerity that the tax cut will force. And these victims include a third of the nation's children.
But there will be other victims: middle-income baby boomers.
We keep hearing about the "typical" family that will receive a $1,600 tax cut. Now it's true that under Mr. Bush's plan a median-income family of two adults and two children under the age of 17 would get a $1,600 cut starting in 2006. Most of that, however, comes not from lower tax rates but from an increased child credit. A couple whose children are grown (or even college-age) get only $600, a widow or widower gets only $300. So for middle-income baby boomers, there just isn't much of a tax break. (You can also start to see why 88 percent of families will get less than that "typical" $1,600 break, in most cases much less.)
Needless to say, there is no comparable fine print when it comes to tax cuts for the rich.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush has made it clear that he intends to raid the funds that were supposed to support the baby boomers in their retirement. Social Security and Medicare were expected to accumulate almost $3 trillion in reserves over the next decade, reserves that were supposed to be there for the baby boomers. But Mr. Bush proposes to divert about $1 trillion — a real trillion, not a Bush trillion — into other uses. There will be elaborate sophistry about how money diverted into individual Social Security accounts is still "in the system," about how Medicare surpluses used to finance prescription drug benefits are still part of Medicare, but the fact is that in each case the money isn't available for its intended use.
Without those reserves Medicare will be in trouble early in the next decade, Social Security a bit later. But the pressure to cut benefits will begin years before.
In an unguarded moment during the campaign Mr. Bush remarked about the future Texas fiscal situation, "I hope I'm not here to deal with it." Maybe his attitude toward the consequences of his tax cut is the same: by the time the bill comes due, he'll be gone.
Public Citizen - Press Release - February 28, 2001
WASHINGTON, DC - An energy plan unveiled this week by Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) would do little or nothing to address America's energy problems, despite the fact that it calls for spending billions in taxpayer dollars on corporate subsidies, according to a Public Citizen analysis of the bill.
Many of the billion-dollar subsidies included in Murkowski's bill (S. 388 and S. 389) would encourage the use of dangerous nuclear facilities and inefficient oil wells. Missing are increased fuel efficiency standards and other conservation strategies - a glaring omission considering that two-thirds of America's oil consumption is used in transportation. The bill calls for opening up the sensitive Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, even though a 6 percent increase in auto fuel efficiency standards would, within three years, equal the total amount of recoverable oil estimated to be in the refuge.
The bill lavishes more than $1 billion on the nuclear industry, including $750 million in "production incentives," which would encourage nuclear reactors to cut corners on safety to increase production, Public Citizen believes. In addition, $20 million a year would be handed out to nuclear facilities for making investments to improve their efficiency by a paltry 1 percent.
The bill also directs Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to seek ways to subsidize the high cost of nuclear power by any means necessary, including bestowing federal loan guarantees, federal price guarantees and special tax considerations, and extending taxpayer-funded insurance of the industry in case of Chernobyl-types of accidents, and by direct federal government investment. In one example of explicit promotion of government-subsidized nuclear energy, the bill adds $25 million to the Department of Energy's budget to map out the design and development of new nuclear energy facilities.
"This measure is a lavish gift to energy corporations, once again at the expense of taxpayers and consumers," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "We need to address our problems by taking serious conservation measures, not by offering billions of dollars to industry."
Increased dependence on nuclear power will create more stockpiles of high-level radioactive waste - a problem the bill does not adequately address. For example, the legislation offers tax credits to utilities that store nuclear waste and would commit public dollars to research dangerous and discredited technologies for "recycling" nuclear waste.
The oil, gas, and electric power generating industries, however, receive the lion's share of the estimated $23 billion of taxpayer handouts. Power generators - whose profits were one the highest of any industry group last year, with shareholder returns approaching 60 percent - would receive more than $1.1 billion to use more coal to produce electricity.
The bill also provides incentives for oil and gas companies to drill on federal land. In addition to opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, cash royalty payments for drilling on public land would no longer be required, and offshore, deep-water rigs wouldn't have to pay royalties if the price of oil falls below a certain level. An additional $300 million would be provided to oil companies for extracting oil difficult to reach.
When the numerous accounting and tax credits are taken into account, taxpayers would be subsidizing these oil and gas companies to the tune of more than $10 billion.
The provisions for conservation incentives and renewable energy investments pale in comparison to the subsidies lavished on nuclear and fossil fuels.
"Handing taxpayer money over to energy companies won't do anything to address America's dependence on foreign oil," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "Even if encouraging more drilling on public land produces a million more barrels of oil a day, it will represent little more than 1 percent of world oil production and have no impact on the OPEC cartel. A more sensible approach would be genuine investment in reducing demand through energy conservation and increased investment in renewable technologies, not renewing handouts to oil companies."
Plan Sponsor - October 27, 2000
October 27, 2000 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The Senate vote on HR 2614 has been pushed back to Tuesday, October 31. HR 2614 is the tax bill containing the bipartisan retirement savings legislation, HR 1102.
According to the American Benefits Council, discussions are underway regarding alternative strategies to enact HR 1102 before the conclusion of the congressional session.
While it is possible that October 31 will be the final day of the Congressional session, it is likely that recess will be delayed until early November according to the Council.
President Clinton has threatened a veto of the current House of Representatives version, which does not include some of the cash balance protections sought by the Administration.
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - 10/27/2000
Today (Friday) may be the final pension battle - in Congress - for this session. The legislators want to go home and will try to wrap everything up on Friday.
Now, it seems that if the pension bill (old H. R. 1102) is to pass, it will be added to the big tax bill. It will contain smaller tax bills, as well as the pension bill. It is to be voted on by the House and Senate. The pension bill has followed a torturous path, with much deception and smoke screens set up along the way.
The bill started in the House as H. R. 1102. Employer's lobbyist have been trying to get this bill through for some time. There were many hidden provisions in the bill to take even more money from the pension plans.
The bill sailed through the House. Senator Roth introduced the bill to the Senate, with even worse provisions added to it. The Senate bill had wording that could have retroactively legalized cash balance conversions and nullified many ongoing lawsuits. The anti-wearaway provisions of the bill were useless and even harmful to employees. They could have legalized the taking of employee's early retirement benefit.
Senator Harkin's amendment was to eliminate the wording which would be harmful to employees.
We have been in contact with senator's offices and other sources today. If the information provided is correct, the original H. R. 1102 will be added to the tax bill. The good news is that this version is not as bad as the Roth version. This will make the Harkin amendment unnecessary.
President Clinton has been contact with Congress about the bill several times. In one communication, he stated: "…provided that certain modifications that the Treasury Department has discussed with the tax-writing committees are made to ensure that employer-provided pensions for workers are not harmed, to provide meaningful protections for workers affected by cash balance conversions, and to provide progressive savings incentives for low- and moderate-income workers..."
The President also threatened to veto the tax bill "…unless he received a more balanced tax package that was aimed at middle class families…"
Many people's eyes glaze over when confronted with legislative debate. But for us not to engage the enemy on every front, is to allow them to win by default. We have already lost too many battles by default. It is much easier to kill bad legislation before it becomes law, than to try to rectify the damage afterwards. "The price of liberty (and pensions) is eternal vigilance."
Why We Oppose the Senate Pension Bill
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - 10/8/2000
The vote on Senate bill S.476, Comprehensive Pension and Retirement Security Act of 1999, has been postponed. This postponement was likely due to the thousands of protests that Congress has received lately. Thanks to all who have contacted their senators about this terrible legislation.
The bill is better known by the House number: H. R. 1102. The bill will do very little good for anyone and it could retroactively legalize cash balance conversions. If the Harkin Amendment is added to the bill, it will neutralize the dangerous language. We need the Harkin Amendment added or the bill rejected.
The Senate is meeting for extra days and this bill could still be passed this year! Your senators can still be reached early next week to register opposition to the bill by phone or FAX.
The link below offers excerpts from a report that shows some of the weaknesses of the Senate bill:
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - 9/21/2000
We were happy that the employee petition "DO NOT Legalize Age Discrimination!" met the original goal of 1000 signatures by 9/20/00. The deadline was then extended to 9/25/00. The signatures have almost doubled in less than 24 hours! Yes, we are very close to having 2000 signatures!
Press Release - 9/8/2000
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 8, 20000
Statement of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) on the Finance Committee's cash balance proposal
"Unfortunately, the Committee reported cash balance pension plan provision does little to eliminate the abuses workers face when their employees switch to cash balance plans. Instead, it appears to provide a haven for employers who want to disregard existing legal employee protections.
"One of the largest concerns is the erosion of benefits for older workers. The employer calculates the value of the benefit accrued under the worker's older plan. When that benefit is higher than the value calculated under many new 'cash balance' plans, the employer does not put anything into the employee's account until the level in the account matches the lower amount required under the new plan. The result is that many workers have nothing added to their pensions for years - some for as many as five years or even longer. This is called a 'wear away' of benefits, a waiting period while the higher benefits under the old plan are reduced the lower level of the new plan. The Committee's proposal fails to protect most workers from this benefit 'wear away'.
"The Committee's bill also allows employers to violate a number of existing worker protections. For example, it appears to eliminate important age discrimination protections. In doing so, it seems to invalidate a number of age discrimination lawsuits. It appears to undercut the current EEOC study of this issue. And it appears to overturn the 11th Circuit ruling in Lyons v. Georgia-Pacific Corporation that requires corporations to provide protections for lump sum determinations for employees.
"It is my intention to offer an amendment on the Senate floor that offers meaningful protection for workers rather than changing the law to eliminate their existing rights."
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - 9/9/2000
The Senate Finance Committee has approved sending the Retirement and Savings Act on to the Senate for a vote later this month. Realistically, stopping this bill will be nearly impossible. It contains a few good provisions that will help a few people. Most senators will probably jump on this as a chance to look good before the election. The sinister portions of the bill, which will destroy pensions for millions of workers, are well hidden within the bill. But, we are not dead yet.
In Senator Harkin's press release (below), it is stated that he intends to offer an amendment that will fix the sinister portions of the bill. An amendment that is focused on exactly the problems with the bill, may be the only reasonable solution. Senator Harkin has been a friend in the past, and he is coming through for us again.
SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS TO
REJECT HOUSE-PASSED PENSION MEASURE
Coalition for Retirement Security - 7/28/2000
The Coalition for Retirement Security, a grassroots organization representing 1,153,000 employees and retirees, today hand-delivered letters to Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth, Jr. (R-DE) and 18 other Committee members to express the group's "strong opposition to the many anti-worker provisions" included in the Comprehensive Retirement Security and Pension Reform Act of 2000 (H.R. 1102) passed by the House of Representatives on July 19, 2000.
Corporate Executives and Owners Provisions Could Lead to
Pension Reductions for Low- And Moderate-income Workers
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - 7/17/2000
Tax legislation that the House Ways and Means Committee approved July 13 (H.R. 4843) would substantially expand pension tax preferences for high-income executives but likely lead to some reductions in pension coverage among low- and moderate-income workers and employees of small businesses. The provisions of this legislation, which is scheduled to come to the House floor the week of July 17, are similar to the pension tax provisions included in the large tax bill that President Clinton vetoed last summer.
(For a thorough discussion of the pitfalls of this bill, click the link below.)
OFFICE OF PENSION PARTICIPANT ADVOCACY
Iowa Senator Continues Efforts to Help Hardworking Americans Get Their Full Pension
WASHINGTON --- The millions of Americans with pensions could be helped by legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today. Harkin's a bill would create an Office of Pension Participant Advocacy at the U.S. Department of Labor, establishing a central location where pension participants can turn to when problems arise.
"With the number of retirees set to skyrocket in the coming years, there is no better time to focus on better protecting American's pensions," Harkin said. "Pension plan participants deserve a say in the policies that determine their livelihood."
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - April 14, 2000
Do not let the title of this bill fool you. There is no fairness in this bill for employees! This bill was written by an asbestos manufacturer! This bill seeks to:
If you do not have an asbestos related illness, you could develop one in the future. You can help your fellow employees by asking your congressman to vote AGAINST this bill.
HARKIN (AND OTHERS) AMENDMENT NO. 3073 (Senate - April 06, 2000)
SEC. XX. SENSE OF SENATE REGARDING CASH BALANCE PENSION PLAN CONVERSIONS. (a) Findings: The Senate finds the following:
(1) Defined benefit pension plans are guaranteed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and provide a lifetime benefit for a beneficiary and spouse.
(2) Defined benefit pension plans provide meaningful retirement benefits to rank and file workers, since such plans are generally funded by employer contributions.
(3) Employers should be encouraged to establish and maintain defined benefit pension plans.
(4) An increasing number of major employers have been converting their traditional defined benefit plans to `cash balance' or other hybrid defined benefit plans.
(5) Under current law, employers are not required to provide plan participants with meaningful disclosure of the impact of converting a traditional defined benefit plan to a `cash balance' or other hybrid formula.
(6) For a number of years after a conversion, the cash balance or other hybrid benefit formula may result in a period of `wear away' during which older and longer service participants earn no additional benefits. (b) Sense of the Senate: It is the sense of the Senate that the levels in this resolution assume that pension plan participants whose plans are changed to cause older or longer service workers to earn less retirement income, including conversions to `cash balance plans,' should receive additional protection than what is currently provided, and Congress should act this year to address this important issue. In particular, at a minimum--
(1) all pension plan participants should receive adequate, accurate, and timely notice of any change to a plan that will cause participants to earn less retirement income in the future;
(2) pension plans that are changed to a cash balance or other hybrid formula should not be permitted to `wear away' participants' benefits in such a manner that older and longer service participants earn no additional pension benefits for a period of time after the change; and
(3) Federal law should continue to prohibit pension plan participants from being discriminated against on the basis of age in the provision of pension benefits.
Washington Post 4/2/2000
"It seems to me that the problem that initiatives addressed still exists. Legislatures are not as corrupt as they were a century ago, but many are dominated by business lobbies, and legislators resist any political reform that would jeopardize their status quo. When a legislature won't pass campaign finance reform or even term limits in spite of their popularity, people should have some recourse, and initiatives provide it. Broader is certainly right that the use of initiatives has become twisted beyond their original purpose. But many legislative innovations, including the campaign-finance laws, eventually become part of the problem they were intended to solve. The answer, however, is not to get rid of initiatives but to find some way of restricting or reforming their use. The most obvious step would be to require the sponsors of initiatives to adhere to the same fund-raising requirements as federal candidates for office. The courts, of course, have made this kind of restriction more difficult."
Every time the people find a process to achieve justice, here comes big business, like hogs to slop. If there is any way to exploit and dominate the process, they will find it.
"In the state of Washington, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen spent $3 million convincing the public to pass an initiative to spend $425 million in public funds to build a stadium for his football team. Some of the methods of signature collection have also been offensive. In Washington, backers of an anti-affirmative-action initiative hired blacks from out of state to collect signatures on a promise that they were working for a civil-rights measure."