Lobbyists Take To Capitol Hill

JANUARY 2004
- GPO/WEP Laws Addressed - Marking the next step in our battle to repeal the dreaded Government
Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) laws, the
Association has recently traveled to Washington to meet with federal
officials on the issue of Social Security benefits.

The
Association's legislative liaison, Shawn Duhamel, has been working the
halls of Congress in an attempt to generate new interest in the issues.
Duhamel has been joined by Washington lobbyist Rich Fitzsimmons of
Lussier, Gregor, Vienna and Associates. Fitzsimmons, who has years of
Capital Hill experience as a Congressional staffer, is well versed in
all issues relating to Social Security.

Our
legislative team has met with key staffers in the offices of
Massachusetts Congressmen Neil, Frank, Capuano, Lynch, Meehan, and
Delahunt along with the staff of Senators Kerry and Kennedy. These
meetings have proved to be quite productive.

"It
is obvious that our members have made a significant impact on the
Massachusetts Congressional delegation. They have been reading the
letters and hearing about the calls from retirees, so the message has
been getting through," said Duhamel. "Every staff member knew the ins
and outs of the issue and explained what their respective boss has been
doing to get the law changed.

"There
is no question that repealing either the GPO or WEP is going to be next
to impossible, given the current fiscal and political climate in
Washington. However, people are talking about both issues and are
actively looking for a solution."

As
has been previously reported in the Voice, the cost of repealing one or
both laws would be an expensive proposition. For instance, a full
repeal of both the GPO and WEP is estimated to cost $65 billion over 10
years. A partial repeal, while less expensive, would cost $32 billion.

Florida's Shaw Is Key

With
control of the US Congress firmly in the hands of the Republican Party,
any move to repeal or otherwise alter the GPO or WEP must occur with
the blessing of the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. For
this reason, the Association has been actively working to build
positive relationships with key Republican members of Congress.

Central
amongst these members is Florida's E. Clay Shaw (R-Ft. Lauderdale), who
is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Social Security. It is
this committee in which all House bills relating to the GPO or WEP have
been sent for review. In addition to controlling the flow of
legislation from the Committee, Shaw has filed his own GPO reform
proposal, which would allow those who qualify to collect Social
Security through their spouse to keep a larger portion of their benefit
before being impacted by the GPO.

In
addition to encouraging members living on Florida's Gold Coast to
contact Rep. Shaw to ask for his support, the Association has met with
the Committee's staff to discuss possible solutions.

During
his visit to Capital Hill on October 14, Duhamel and Fitzsimmons met
with Kim Hildred, who is Chairman Shaw's chief-of-staff. Hildred is
well known in retirement circles for her in-depth knowledge of the
Social Security system. She is also respected for her fair approach to
difficult issues, such as the GPO and WEP. Spearheading the meeting was
LGV&A's Jim Miller, who is a retired Georgia teacher and a close
associate of Hildred.

"I came away
from the meeting with Kim Hildred comfortable in that she is someone
who cares about the issue and is truly trying to find a solution. She
listened to what we had to say and offered an inside prospective on
what has been taking place to resolve the problem," explained Duhamel.
"While she could not commit to any one course of action, Kim did
explain Chairman Shaw's position.

"The
general message was that while interest in the GPO and WEP is growing
amongst members of Congress, no one has yet to figure out how to pay
for the changes. Shaw seems most interested in addressing the GPO
first, due to the high number of poorer women who are being hurt."

Senate Eyes Reform

At
the same time the House explores its options, members of the US Senate
appear to be nearing a point of action on the GPO. Following a dramatic
hearing before the Senate's Government Affairs Committee, in which
compelling testimony was heard on both the GPO and WEP, a bipartisan
coalition of Senators is poised to take action.

Spurned
by the hearing, which was organized by Republican Senator Susan Collins
of Maine, a number of key Senators have crossed party lines and are
working together in an attempt to find a solution.

While
a number of Senators are on record as being in favor of a GPO/WEP
reform, a small group has come together at the forefront of the issue.
Joining Collins in a push for Senate action are Senators Diane
Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and George Voinovich (R-OH).

This
group of Senators has actively explored various means by which to pass
a reform measure this session. Due to the high cost, the group has
focused on a modest overhaul of the GPO law.

"In
a perfect world, we would want to see a total repeal of both the GPO
and WEP. However, given the circumstances that exist in Washington
right now, a total repeal is just not possible," says Duhamel. "Again
the GPO is getting the most attention because of the disastrous effect
it is having on retirees. Both laws hit retirees hard, but the GPO is
simply wiping people out."

Both
Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have been actively
lobbying for reform as well. Kerry has filed his own bill, S 1011,
while Kennedy is said to be using his considerable clout to bring the
issues to the forefront for debate.

With
Kennedy's active support key to any effort put forth in the Senate, the
Association has kept in close contact with the Senator's Washington
based staff. Former Worcester County Treasurer Michael Donoghue has
been instrumental in gaining Kennedy's support.

Donoghue
has been asked by the Worcester Regional Retirement Board, on which he
serves as chairman, to work closely with the Association on this issue.

"Mike
Donoghue has been a go-to guy for our Association many times over the
years. He always delivers and is very highly regarded by our
Congressional delegation. He has offered to jump into the fray on the
GPO/WEP, and we are more than happy to have his help on these important
issues," said Association President Ralph White.

"We
are keeping a very close eye on Washington as things develop. The lines
of communication are open with our Congressional delegation and they
are keeping in close contact with us," added Duhamel. We need to keep
the pressure on and urge our members to remain proactive."

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