Retirees Heard Loud And Clear

NOVEMBER 2007: Kerry Supports Social Security Hearing. In politics, it is often said that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. On the issue of Senate hearings on the repeal of the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), the voice of Association members has been heard loud and clear.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Senate’s Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy, requested that hearings be scheduled this fall on the WEP/GPO. That request has been approved by Montana Senator Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, under which the Social Security Subcommittee operates.

Kerry’s decision to support Senatorial hearings on Social Security during the current session is in direct response to the countless Association members who contacted his office over the past two months, demanding immediate action on the issues of WEP/GPO.

As we reported in our September edition of the Voice, the Senator informed us that he felt that best way to address the WEP/GPO repeal was in the context of Social Security overhaul. He also felt that a hearing would reopen the debates on private accounts and move us backwards.

In turn, we reported that there will be no debate on private accounts, a whim of President Bush, which never got off the ground. There is no support of private accounts within the Democratic leadership, who are now in control of the Congress. We also indicated that his letter was contrary to his previously stated support of hearings.

However, calls and letters from Association members quickly diverted attention from private accounts and Social Security reform, which could be light years away, to the very real hardships faced by victims of WEP and GPO.

"To say that members were livid over the lack of hearings this year would be an understatement. I have rarely, if ever, seen retirees so universally focused on a single issue as they are on the WEP and GPO, said Association President Ralph White. “To Senator Kerry’s credit, he heard the message from our members and reconsidered his position. Many of those contacting the Senator were his longtime supporters in some cases.

"This Association does agree with the Senator’s position on private accounts and we are on record opposing the President’s scheme. Even many Republicans are now against that ill conceived idea that never got any traction.”

Bills Gain Support

Procedurally, S.206, which would fully repeal both the WEP and GPO, is being held before Baucus’s Committee on Finance. Filed by California Senator Diane Feinstein, S.206 now has 35 cosponsors in the Senate. Two presidential candidates have now signed onto the bill, Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT).

In the US House of Representatives, H.R. 82 has 324 out of 435 Congressmen signed onto the bill as cosponsors. Like its Senate companion, H.R. 82 would also fully repeal the WEP and GPO. The bill’s lead sponsors are California Congressmen Howard “Buck” McKeon and Howard Berman.

Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Social Security, is expected to schedule his own set of hearings on WEP/GPO later this fall. As members may recall, in July Rep. Charles Rangle (D-NY), who chairs the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means, called on McNulty to schedule hearings after the summer recess.

While Association officials are encouraged by the increased support and high number of cosponsors on both repeal bills, neither bill is expected to pass through the Congress this year. Most Washington observers believe that the issues of WEP and GPO will be eventually addressed as part of a much larger overhaul of the Social Security System.

"Despite the slow progress, things are beginning to turn in our favor. WEP and GPO are major policies that have a significant financial impact on the federal budget. It is not something that can or will change overnight,” explains Association Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel, who is our point man on Social Security. “It is also understandable that the ongoing war does interfere with other legislative initiatives.

"The important thing is for members not to become discouraged. Keeping the pressure on, educating our officials, and continuing to build national coalitions will eventually lead to this issue being resolved.”