Railroad Retirement bill goes down to the wire

At press time, the future of legislation designed to improve benefits for active railroad workers, retirees and surviving spouses, and to provide reductions in Tier II tax levels for railroads, continues to be mired in political intrigue in the United States Senate.

The bill, which the House of Representatives passed by a 391-25 margin, has 83 Senate co-sponsors, and is awaiting introduction on the Senate floor.

The proposed measure, which would reduce the vesting requirement from 10 years to five, eliminate the actuarial reduction for those who retire prior to age 62, increase surviving spouses' annuities and eliminate the Railroad Retirement maximum benefit, has no opposition among either rail labor or management. However, the bill is being attacked by outside interests, including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and various groups promoting the privatization of Social Security.

Three ultra-conservative Senators - Pete Domenici (R-NM), Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Don Nickles (R-OK) - have thus far successfully convinced Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) to hold the bill from consideration by the full Senate.

Their opposition is based on two factors. One is a desire by ultra-conservative legislators to completely privatize the Railroad Retirement system as a prelude to a plan to privatize Social Security. The other concerns the fact that - under the federal government's unitary budget scoring system - transfers of Railroad Retirement funds from the U.S. Treasury to the new Railroad Retirement Trust Fund could be scored as a reduction in assets on the federal books.

BLE International President Edward Dubroski criticized these eleventh-hour political maneuvers.

"Even though Railroad Retirement is governed by federal law, it historically has reflected the agreement of labor and management, not some political process," Dubroski said. "Our pensions are not the concern of the NAM and other Social Security privateers. And the budget scoring issue is nothing more than a red herring, because Railroad Retirement funds can't be used for any purpose outside the system."

If the logjam is broken prior to Congress adjourning, then passage by the Senate is certain. At press time, it was unclear when the Senate would adjourn. Enactment into law by President Clinton would make the increased benefits effective on January 1, 2001.


2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers