- - Saturday, June 20, 2020

Swing-state voters are concerned about the impact the COVId-19 economic crisis will have on their future. Conservatives running for federal office, especially in the Senate, need to listen closely to these voters who will determine the future makeup of Congress and the White House. If they ignore this issue, swing-state voters may send them packing.

If Republicans in the Senate mishandle this issue, the polling indicates that the Senate could change control in the fall elections. Clearly, with incumbent Republicans in danger in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina and Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, needs to support a negotiated solution to the problem of multi-employer pension plans running out of funds for seniors. Although the issue of multi-employer pension plans is complicated, voters will support politicians who are problem solvers when it comes to reforming and shoring up retirement plans.

A multi-employer retirement plan is a retirement plan dependent on investment funds and the ability of a sponsor to contribute. The Pension Benefits Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) defines these plans as “a collectively bargained plan maintained by more than one employer, usually within the same or related industries, and a labor union.” The backbone of the coronavirus economy are the very people who are covered in retirement by these plans with about 1,400 plans, including about 10 million participants. Think about miners, manufacturers, service industries, retail employees and truckers who are all keeping food delivered and our economy running. 

The Retirement Security Coalition commissioned a survey in the swing states that showed strong support for politicians who support strengthening multi-employer pension plans. The poll found voters worried about the future of the economy and financial security in general. While all Americans recognize that blue-collar workers have been keeping the economy going in this time of crisis, voters want them protected.

As people understand the complexities of the multi-employer pension plan issue, they support politicians who promise to provide financial assistance and reforms to these plans as an important provision in any coronavirus response plan. Swing-state voters support a solution that includes more employer support, government aid and retiree support.

The Retirement Security Coalition polled various issues related to multi-employer pensions in the swing states of Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. While the primary focus of voters today is the coronavirus and President Trump’s latest action, this is an issue that will move voters. With a very close election expected this fall, candidates who map out a solution the crisis will help bridge gaps in constituencies that are putting many incumbents in political trouble.

The poll found that two-thirds (66% to 14%) support a comprehensive proposal to protect retirees and make changes to multi-employer pension plans. The poll also found that a majority (63%) being more likely to vote for a member of the Senate who makes it a priority, and voter support is even greater (70%) for a senator who votes to protect and fix multi-employer pension plans for the essential workers who have been putting their lives at risk and working to keep things going for all of us during the coronavirus crisis.

The House has passed the HEROES Act and sent it to the Senate. The House plan included provisions to support multi-employer pensions. This provision has the strong support of unions, yet Republicans in the Senate are opposing without some reforms to federal laws that govern contributions. Roll Call reported on April 17, 2020, “unions and affected companies are lobbying for something akin to a 30-page draft bill circulated last month by Senate Democrats, which melds aid to single employers with aspects of competing union rescue plans pushed by House Democrats and Senate Republicans over the past year.”

There is bipartisan support for a plan that includes financial aid with reform whether it be included in the HEROES Act or another piece of legislation. 

These plans have been impacted by the coronavirus economic crisis and financial support is one aspect of the plan to fix these at-risk pension plans. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner and former member of House Democratic Leadership Joe Crowley wrote in an op-ed for CNBC that “the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal backstop for plans that can no longer cover promised benefits,” is “projected to become insolvent in five years, making their ‘guaranty’ not much better than a band-aid solution.” Solving the problem during the coronavirus response legislative effort will prevent a future bailout.

The Retirement Security Coalition poll shows that politicians who support reform and aid to multi-employer retirement plans will be rewarded. If Republicans in the Senate block reform and ignore the problem, they may not be sent back to Washington to be problem solvers. 

• Saul Anuzis is former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

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