Former Speaker Boehner joins fight to save pensions for 1.3 million retirees

Former House Speaker John Boehner is getting involved in the fight to save the pensions of nearly 1.3 million retirees.

Boehner, a former local congressman who retired in 2015, said Wednesday that he and former House Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley will lead the Retirement Security Coalition, which is billed as “a diverse group of employers, labor unions and policy experts dedicated to finding a common ground solution to the crisis.” The coalition includes UPS, the United Association of Plumber and Fitters and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The plan is straightforward: Boehner and Crowley plan to make as much noise as possible to raise awareness of the plight of retirees in endangered multiemployer benefit plans.

About 10 million people participate in multiemployer pension plans, which enable groups of employers to pool their retirement resources. But about 120 plans covering 1.3 million workers are expected to become insolvent over the next two decades, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which assists endangered and failed pension plans, is expected to run out of money by 2025, which means there will be no backup for those whose pension plans go bankrupt.

The two are introducing their coalition a week before the House is expected to take up a $64 billion plan that aims to help troubled pensions. The proposal would provide low-interest, 30-year loans to troubled multiemployer pension plans. The prospects for that plan passing the Senate, however, appear grim.

Though Boehner and Crowley say their coalition intends to raise awareness, some in Congress are acutely aware of the pension issue. A joint committee of House members and senators last year co-chaired by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio failed to find a solution. Brown and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who also served on the committee, have more than 60,000 constituents in the troubled plans.

Boehner and Crowley said they have no plans of endorsing a specific plan, but said instead their goal simply is to heighten awareness. “I’m not sure there’s broad knowledge in our country or on Capitol Hill about how serious this problem is,” said Boehner.

Their goal, Boehner said, is to “let Congress develop a solution.”

“It’s certainly not up to Joe and I,” he said. “We’re not legislators any more. We’re going to let the legislators be the legislators.”

Crowley said if the systems collapse, those who had pensions of $15,000 a year would see it shrink to $300 annually. “That’s about a cup of coffee per week,” he said.

Both said that the failure of the system would decimate the rest of the economy, potentially leading to increased unemployment and layoffs.

“What we’re bringing to the table is an alarm bell that this issue needs to be addressed,” Crowley said. “Because millions of Americans — not just a few thousand — face real hardship if their pensions are slashed or cut or compromised.”

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