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Mistakes, Misinformation or Mendacity?

By Dennis R. Pierce
BLET National President

CLEVELAND, September 24 — About five months ago we began reporting on an attack on our pension and occupational disability benefits initiated by passage of House Concurrent Resolution 112, which is commonly known as the “Ryan Budget,” named after its author, House Budget Committee Chairman and Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI). Accompanying the Resolution was House Report No. 112-421, which states — on page 101 — the following:

“Conform Railroad Retirement Tier 1 Benefits to Social Security Benefits. Tier 1 benefits for railroad retirees are supposed to mimic Social Security benefits, but they are more generous than Social Security in many ways. This option would conform Tier 1 so that its benefits would equal those of Social Security, with an estimated savings to taxpayers of $2 billion over 10 years.”

As all BLET members should know, Tier 1 Railroad Retirement benefits include the “60/30” early retirement annuities and occupational disability annuities, important benefits for all railroaders. These benefits are wholly paid for by railroads and rail workers, and — contrary to the erroneous assertion in the House Report — reducing these benefits would result in no financial savings whatsoever for the federal government to reduce the national debt.

Our reporting of the Ryan Budget’s threat to “60/30” early retirement and occupational disability created a firestorm of response, from claims by railroads and others that “there’s nothing to worry about” because such changes wouldn’t be enacted “by this Congress” to allegations that we simply had fabricated the threat. We, in turn, provided links on our website to the actual documents that supported our reporting (www.ble-t.org/ryanbudget) so the membership could make an independent judgment of the facts.

Since then, several rank-and-file members of the BLET have contacted their members of Congress regarding the impact of the Ryan Budget on Railroad Retirement benefits. Those responses, which have been shared with the National Division, vary widely and display a fundamental lack of understanding of how Railroad Retirement works, an effort to sow misinformation, or a deliberate attempt to deceive BLET members and others regarding the proposal and its impact.

In a May 14, 2012, letter to a constituent in California, Rep. Ryan wrote: “As you know, Tier 1 Retirement Benefits are funded through a payroll tax and are invested in special non-marketable bonds, just like with Social Security. Further, these benefits are supposed to mimic Social Security benefits, and one potential reform would be to conform Tier 1 Retirement Benefits, so that its benefits would be equal to those of Social Security.” By this letter, Rep. Ryan admits that he proposes to eliminate the “60/30” early retirement and occupational disability benefits. (Download PDF of letter)

In August, Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) held a Town Hall meeting in North Platte, Nebraska. According to the local newspaper, the North Platte Bulletin, the Congressman issued a statement regarding the Ryan Budget which read in part: “As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trust fund operations relating to the Railroad Retirement System, I supported a deficit reduction package required by the House budget, which did not alter Railroad Retirement benefits.” Rep. Smith’s statement begs the question whether he even read House Report 112-421 or — being elected from a district that contains the nation’s largest freight rail yard — he thought he could get away with a semantic sleight-of-hand.

Earlier this month, another Republican — Virginia Representative Robert Hurt — responded to a BLET constituent with information that is utterly and blatantly false. Hurt wrote:

“The House Budget, H. Con. Res. 112, makes a number of reforms that would cut spending, reduce the size and scope of the federal government, and reform unsustainable health and retirement security programs to make them viable for future generations. Tier 1 railroad retirement benefits are designed to mimic Social Security benefits, but, like Social Security, the program risks going into default and must be changed to keep it solvent. Currently, the general federal Treasury is already covering shortfalls in the Railroad Retirement Trust Fund, which will only grow as more railroad workers retire.”

According to the Railroad Retirement Board’s published summary of its July 2012 Financial Report puts the lie to Rep. Hurt’s claims:

“As of September 30, 2011, total railroad retirement system assets, comprising assets managed by the National Railroad Retirement Investment Trust and the railroad retirement system accounts at the Treasury, equaled $23.6 billion. … [B]arring a sudden, unanticipated, large drop in railroad employment or substantial investment losses, the railroad retirement system will experience no cash-flow problems during the next 23 years. … No financing changes were recommended at this time by the report.”

Also within the past couple of weeks, a post from a self-proclaimed blogger named John, who supports the Romney/Ryan ticket, has been circulating inside the BLET. This post admits that the House Report 112-421 proposed change “would have been to hold the retirement to 62 and older, as social security currently does, verses (sic) allowing full retirements at 60 for those with 30 plus years in, as the tier I benefits currently allow.” However, it also includes the following falsehoods:

• The unions are reporting “that Gov. Romney plans to move the railroad retirement system into social security.”

• The reporting on the Ryan Budget’s plans for Railroad Retirement “is an untrue rumor by the democrat-aligned unions in the important coal and railroad regions in Virginia and West Virginia.”

• That “the unions never [provide links to the relevant documents], since they are lying about it.”

• That “unions are spreading big, false rumors based on innuendo and congress proposing … combining the railroad retirement with social security and removing all the tier II benefits.”

This blogger has shown the textbook application of the Big Lie theory: take a fact (we are warning BLET members about the Ryan Budget attack on Railroad Retirement by proposing to conform Tier 1 with Social Security), coat it with one huge lie (that we’re claiming Ryan seeks to merge Railroad Retirement into Social Security and eliminate Tier 2, which we’ve never claimed), and then hang a few smaller lies on the huge lie as adornments (that the reporting is based in the coal region and that we’re hiding the relevant documents from BLET members).

Mark Twain is reported to have once said that “A lie can run around the world six times while the truth is still trying to put on its pants.” The way the blogosphere works, we can expect more mistaken information, more misinformation, and more mendacity as Election Day draws near. You can also rest assured that the BLET will not be swayed by those who attempt to misrepresent our honest and straightforward reporting of the facts, all for their own political purpose. It’s been said by many who are working to destroy the middle class that they won’t be controlled by fact checkers. What they really meant is that they won’t let the facts get in the way of their misrepresentations and outright lies. Beware of spin, from politicians and talking heads alike. Do your own research and your own homework by finding the actual relevant documents, reading them and then drawing your own conclusions… and then remember in November.

Monday, September 24, 2012
bentley@ble-t.org

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