A picture of Representative George Miller
George M.
Former Democrat CA 11
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    Insular Areas and Freely Associated States Energy Development

    by Former Representative George Miller

    Posted on 2014-12-11

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    MILLER of California. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    Chairman Kline, I thank you so much for your very kind words, for your friendship, and for your willingness to work together.

    You are right. We haven't always agreed, but we tried to honor that by not becoming disagreeable with one another. My service on the Education and Workforce Committee has been the joy of my life in the Congress of the United States. Thank you for steering the committee over these last several years.

    I want to join you in thanking all of the hardworking staff not just on this piece of legislation, but year in and year out, hearing in and hearing out, amendments and changes, and all the things staff goes through. They have really acted in a very, very professional manner.

    They too have been able to work back and forth across the aisle and across ideologies and all the rest of it and serve as a buffer every now and then when the Members get a little out of control. Thank you so very, very much.

    This Kline-Miller multiemployer pension agreement that was added to the bill before us today is based upon a proposal developed nearly 2 years ago by labor unions and employers who wanted to find a path forward for severely distressed and failing pension plans.

    This provision will give plan trustees--labor and management--the tools they need to avoid the impending collapse of many multiemployer plans. It will also provide new funds--with a premium increase--for the insurer charged with backing up these plans which is also facing bankruptcy.

    The Kline-Miller provision is the only available option to save these failing plans, and it is the last chance that labor unions, their members, and employers have to gain some control over the future of their pensions.

    Throughout my 40 years in Congress, I have worked to strengthen pension protections and to expand retirement security for all Americans. I have fought for workers, and I have fought for their benefits.

    I have fought for their right to collectively bargain over retirement and from the hidden fees in their 401(k) plans. I fought to protect them from conflicted investment advice that could have put their retirement security at risk. It is my commitment to workers and their retirement security that brings me here today.

    We have an obligation to reform the multiemployer system so that we can protect the retirement security of workers nationwide. The approach we have put forward, which is backed by business and labor leaders, will secure the multiemployer pension systems for millions of current and future retirees.

    It includes important consumer safeguards that give participants in these plans a voice to protect the most vulnerable retirees. Most importantly, it gives employers and the employees the option--a choice, not a mandate. They get to choose. They get to decide that they want to design a plan that they think can rescue their currently failing pension system. That is an important right to grant them.

    Many local unions have already made this decision with their members, but they can't do it. They can't cut their own benefits because they are prohibited from doing it by law.

    Who are we to tell these workers that they can't take the opportunity to stretch their pool of pension money, their savings, so that it may cover more people for a longer period of time if they make these adjustments? They want to make these adjustments, but the law says they can't.

    If we trust labor unions, if we trust the workers, if we believe in the dignity of the worker, we should give them the opportunity and the responsibility of trying to save their own pensions. This is all this bill does. It gives them the option. It gives them the opportunity.

    It lets them take on the responsibility for trying to design a rescue plan that may increase the longevity of their plan. It may allow retirees a better pension than they would get if they just fell into the government rescue system. That is what they are asking us to let them do.

    This is not a new idea. It has been here for 2 years of hearings. It has been under Chairman Kline. We have had exhaustive hearings on this provision. We have heard from the employers. We have heard from a cross section of unions, some who agree with this plan and some who disagree.

    That is why it is an option. For those who don't want to do it, those who have written you letters and said, ``Don't do this,'' what about the guys that want to do this? So this is an option. They will have to talk to their members, they will have to talk to the employers, they will have to talk to their trustees, and they will have to make a decision. If they can come up with that rescue plan, they ought to be allowed to do that.

    The time has come to let them do this. These plans are losing altitude every day that they can't make these adjustments. Hopefully, a pickup in the economy, an increase in employment, an increase in enrollment will help them, but they still need the option to be able to make these judgments.

    I would hope that my colleagues here in the Congress would trust these workers enough to give them this opportunity and this responsibility to make these decisions about their retirement, not our wish list of how we would like it to be, but their retirement today that is in threat of collapse.

    I urge my colleagues to support this provision and support this legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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