- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

The Senate approved President Bush's nomination of John W. Snow as Treasury secretary last night after the railroad executive gave assurances he would review a department rule on pensions that opponents contend hurts older workers.
The nomination of the administration's top economic spokesman was approved by voice vote after many senators had already left the Capitol to begin a long three-day weekend.
Mr. Snow, the head of railroad giant CSX Corp. for the past 14 years, was tapped last month as Treasury secretary after the ouster of Paul H. O'Neill in a shake-up of the administration's economic team.
The administration had pushed for a quick Senate vote, hoping to have Mr. Snow on the job by Monday, when Mr. Bush will send Congress his new budget.
In a statement last night, Mr. Bush said he was "pleased that the Senate acted quickly to confirm John Snow as secretary of the Treasury. John will work with me to strengthen economic growth and create jobs so that everyone who seeks work can find work."
Mr. Snow's nomination won approval after the CSX executive held a 40-minute meeting with Democrat Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, who had blocked the nomination from being taken up by the full Senate until they had a chance to air their grievances with Mr. Snow over the pension issue.
The two want the government to implement a rule that would prohibit companies from forcing workers out of "defined benefit" plans into "cash-balance" pension plans. Many companies have been adopting the new type of pension to cut costs.
The two senators said that Mr. Snow gave no assurances on what shape the final Treasury rule would take, but he did pledge to keep the current moratorium on forced conversions in place until a final rule is implemented.
Treasury Department spokesman Robert Nichols said that Mr. Snow had pledged to "give the issue his full attention. He agreed that it was an important issue and said he would treat it with an open mind and be objective and fair."
Mr. Durbin said he was satisfied with Mr. Snow's assurances, saying the railroad executive had recounted in the meeting that CSX employees had been given the choice of sticking with their current plans or switching to the new cash-balance programs.
The same options were offered at other companies where Mr. Snow served on the board of directors, the Illinois lawmaker cited Mr. Snow as saying.
The pension issue involves a dispute over cash-balance pensions, which many large companies are adopting to save money. While the plans offer better benefits for younger and shorter-tenured workers, plan conversions typically mean less money for workers close to retirement age and have led to federal age-discrimination lawsuits.
Late last year, however, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations that would state specifically that such conversions are not discriminatory and end a two-year freeze on government approval of such conversions.
Workers in a cash-balance plan traditionally get a percentage of their annual salary that can be paid out as a lump sum or as an annuity when they leave. Unlike a 401(k) plan, workers neither own the accounts nor make investment decisions. Unlike a traditional pension plan, the worker does not get annual benefits from the company after retiring.

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