To Renew WEP/GPO Efforts

SEPTEMBER 2013 VOICE: Chances are US Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are not household names to most Massachusetts public retirees. Nor is Alaska often mentioned within the group of seven primary non-Social Security states most impacted by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO).

However, Begich, a Democrat, now finds himself at the center of efforts within the US Senate to repeal the WEP and GPO after filing S896, which is cosponsored by the Republican Murkowski. The Alaskan delegation not only reached across party lines seeking cosponsors, but also far across the continental U.S.

Among the early cosponsors of S896 are US Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). Since being elected in 2012, Warren and her staff have maintained close contact with the Association on a number of federal issues, including WEP & GPO.

Collins, along with former Maine Senator and fellow moderate Republican Olympia Snowe, has long been a leading advocate for WEP/GPO repeal. She is now joined in the Senate’s Republican caucus by Murkowski and Dean Heller (R-NV).

Murkowski gained national fame in 2010, after mounting a successful sticker campaign in the general election to defeat Republican Joe Miller by 4%. Miller, a self-proclaimed right-wing conservative, was backed by former Governor Sarah Palin and narrowly defeated Murkowski in the Republican primary by 1%.

Murkowski’s amazing comeback through a difficult sticker campaign, the first successful attempt in a US Senate election in over fifty years, was credited with the support she received from Alaskan Teachers and Firefighters Unions, as well as support among that state’s public retirees.

Like 2/3 of all public safety officers and teachers across the United States, Alaskan teachers and firefighters do not pay into Social Security and are, therefore, impacted by the WEP/GPO. Likewise, teachers in the state of Nevada are also impacted.

“When Senator Begich’s office called to let us know he had filed S.896, we were a little surprised to be hearing from a Senator from Alaska, of all places. Apparently, he worked closely with Senators Warren and Collins to begin to assemble a national coalition to renew efforts around the issue of WEP/GPO,” recalls the Association’s Shawn Duhamel. “It is very encouraging to see that not only has a bill been filed in the Senate, but that it is being directed by a new group of officials.

“While we still do not expect to see a repeal bill move on its own accord, without a larger Social Security reform effort at hand, the activity around S896 and its House counterpart, HR1795, has breathed new life into this critical issue. Not a day goes by when we do not hear from several members who are impacted by these laws.”

House Support Grows

Support for HR1795 has grown in the Republican dominated House of Representatives, where the bill now counts 85 cosponsors.

Currently, six of the current eight serving Massachusetts Congressmen have signed onto the bill. The ninth seat, which was held by newly elected US Senator Ed Markey, is vacant pending a special election to be held later this year. Markey is expected to sign onto S896 soon.

Association officials are also working with Congressmen Richard Neal and Stephen Lynch to officially bring them on to HR1795. Both Lynch and Neal have been leading advocates for repeal of the WEP and GPO in past Congressional sessions.

With the election of Markey to the Senate, Neal now finds himself Dean of the state’s congressional delegation. He is also the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Joining Warren as a newcomer to the issue of WEP/GPO is Congressman Joseph Kennedy III. Like Warren, Kennedy was elected for the first time in November 2012 to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Barney Frank.

Longtime members know that Frank had been the driving force behind many past efforts to repeal  or reform WEP/GPO.

“Losing Barney Frank’s voice on Social Security was a major setback. We’re very pleased to see that Congressman Kennedy quickly jumped into the fray as a cosponsor. Perhaps he can help pick up the cause of WEP/GPO repeal that was shared by Frank and the Congressman’s uncle, the late Senator Ted Kennedy,” continued Duhamel.

“Richie Neal, Mike Capuano and Jim McGovern are all senior members of the Democratic leadership team in the House. They’re constantly searching for an opening to advance WEP/GPO, and I’m confident that these issues will eventually be addressed,” explains Association President Ralph White. “That said, I frequently hear from members whose patience has worn thin and no longer have faith in the process. I understand members are angry and upset by this very unfair situation.

“WEP and GPO are federal laws, which can only be changed by votes of the US House and US Senate. Right now, majority support doesn’t exist in either branch to move any sort of Social Security bill forward. But, that does not mean we’ve stopped trying or that those federal officials on our side have given up. We will all stick with this cause until we’re successful in getting deserved relief for our members.”