WEP/GPO Repeal: Outlook In '06

JANUARY 2006 - GOP At Odds Over Social Security - Members are growing understandably restless, as efforts to repeal the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) remain stalled in Washington.

As we reported in the November Voice, the overall attempt to reform Social Security in 2005 was sidelined by the two back-to-back hurricanes that ravaged the South in September. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, followed by Wilma in October, have cost the country tens of billions of dollars in federal disaster aid, along with untold lost revenues from a damaged economy.

Plans to move forward with a Social Security reform bill this past fall had to be put off. Now two powerful Republican legislators are squaring off over when a reform initiative will be acted upon by the Congress.

Social Security Subcommitte Chairman James McCrery, a Louisiana Congressman whose hometown of Shreveport was largely spared by the hurricane, has publicly stated that the House may consider moving forward on a reform package early in 2006. McCrery says that Congress must act to improve Social Security before the stability of the system begins to show signs of weakening. Editor's Note: Louisiana's public retirees and employees are hurt by the WEP/GPO the same as here in Mass.

However, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) is on record saying that he doubts that the Senate will take action on Social Security reform during the current session. Grassley even downplays the prospects of the issue being resolved prior to the next presidential election in 2008.

Within the Republican party, moderates and conservatives are split as to which approach to use. Moderates, many of whom were cool to the privatization plan, put forth by President Bush last year, have been supportive of more modest proposals to reform Social Security. Among the GOP, it has been moderate Senators, such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, who have been most supportive of a repeal of the GPO and WEP.

Won't Give Up

Association members are understandably disheartened about the recent developments in Washington. Over the past few years, thousands of retirees have taken the initative to contact their federal representatives.

"Our congressional delegation has heard the message from our members and have done everything they can to move the GPO and WEP issues forward," said Association Legislative Chairman Bill Hill. "We are all frustrated by the delays in Washington, but we cannot and won't give up. Repealing both laws remains a top priority of the Association, and we will continue to do all we can to bring it about."

To that end, Association officials will be attending the annual legislative conference of the National Conference of Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS) in Washington, D.C.. While there in February, Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel will be meeting with representatives from the other effected states and congressional staffs, to map out a strategy for '06. Moreover, the Association will continue to coordinate our efforts with CARE (Coalition to Assure Retirement Equity), the nationwide coalition which has been at the forefront on the repeal.