Democrats Ready For Worker Benefit Debates

April 9, 2004 ( - Having weathered one immediate plan sponsor issue - pension relief - the U.S. Senate now appears ready to step back and focus on a number of other key, but controversial issues of import to plan sponsors.

Most of the issues are going to be brought up by the Democratic contingent in the Senate, as the Republicans have agreed to let the Democrats push debates on overtime pay and multiemployer pension plan legislation.   Republicans agreed to the debate as the Senate attempts to punch through a corporate tax bill, according to an Associated Press report.

>Paramount among the revived debates will be the Democrats effort to block impending changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), changes that the party believes will take away overtime pay for millions of workers ( A comparison of the new rules to existing standards is online at   Previous protests of the proposed amendments resulted in a tied up tax bill, t hat sent ripples far past overtime issues, since included in the corporate tax bill is a tax cut for American manufacturers that also carries the keys to ending a trade dispute with Europe (See  Dems Tie Up Tax Bill in FLSA Protest ).

After FLSA changes, Democrats are still uneasy about the lack of relief for multiemployer pension plans in the funding bill aimed at providing relief to pension plans that was passed by the chamber yesterday (See  Senate Gives Thumbs Up to Pension Funding Bill ).   Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) plans to use the Republicans acquiescence to allow for debate on the corporate tax bill to press for expanded pension relief to help multiemployer plans.

Under provisions of the pension relief bill passed, a small percentage of multiemployer plans would be allowed to put off for two years increased contributions required to make up for market losses in 2002. But after that, they would be required to make up those foregone contributions with a lump sum payment. Democrats wanted the break to go to 20% of multiemployer plans, but the White House objected and Congressional Republicans used their majority clout to override Democratic objections.

Other issues on the Democrats’ debate docket includeefforts to extend expiring unemployment insurance and remove tax breaks viewed as encouragement for companies to move jobs overseas, according to the Associated Press. The debates to add onto the corporate tax bill could be a lengthy process, as senators want to offer 80 possible changes.   “We have more amendments than either one of us would like,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R- Tenn essee) told the Associated Press.