Association Will Not Engage in Political Gamesmanship
September 1, 2022: Editorial By Frank Valeri and Shawn Duhamel
Since our founding in 1968, our Association has built a strong reputation for our honest advocacy and straightforward approach. We do not grandstand nor partake in political gamesmanship. The news we report and positions we take are based on our experience and expert analysis of the facts.
That honest approach was engrained in Mass Retirees by our founder, Ralph White, and will continue under our stewardship. We also believe that an honest assessment of the facts is what our dues paying members expect of us. Afterall, misleading our members helps no one and accomplishes nothing.
This is especially true when it comes to the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO).
Since these two federal laws were created by Congress in 1983, Mass Retirees has been a leader in the national effort to repeal or reform both laws. We believe that both these laws are unfair and unjust, bringing great financial harm to some 76,000 retired Massachusetts public employees. Nationwide, nearly 2 million retirees are harmed by the WEP alone.
WEP Reform Compromise Only Viable Option
In 2014, after fighting for decades for full repeal of both WEP & GPO, we concluded that full repeal is highly unlikely – at least anytime in the foreseeable future. We did not reach this conclusion overnight. It came following a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. with Congressional officials, public unions, retiree associations, and retirement advocates.
We asked the same basic question in each meeting: “Is there a viable path forward to pass a repeal of WEP and GPO?”. Unfortunately, each time we received the same answer: “NO.”
The hard truth is that full repeal of WEP and GPO do not have the national support needed to become federal law. Remember, while an important issue for Massachusetts and the other states where public employees are not covered by Social Security, most public employees across the country work in jobs covered by Social Security – just like all private sector jobs. Regardless of the facts or merits of the argument, the political support does not exist for full repeal.
This is particularly true when it comes to the US Senate, where 60 votes are required to pass legislation impacting Social Security. Those advocating for full repeal have yet to explain the strategy to overcome Senate opposition – if any such strategy exists?
This brings us to the latest iteration of full repeal legislation (there have been many over the past 39 years), H.R.82. While the bill now has 294 cosponsors in the US House of Representatives, enough support to place the proposal on the House’s Consensus Calendar for a possible floor vote this fall, there is no viable path forward for the bill in the US Senate.
S.1302, the Senate companion to H.R.82 has just 40 cosponsors out of the 100 member US Senate. The bill is 20 votes shy of the 60 needed for passage. Of the 40 cosponsors, just 4 are Republicans. Absent from the list are the 2 Republican Senators from Texas or even a single member of the Republican leadership – all of whom oppose full repeal.
What they do support is reform of the WEP. Both Texas Senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are on record supporting WEP reform. We also believe that Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, along with the Democratic majority, will support a bipartisan WEP reform bill if a deal can be made in the House.
Opponents of full repeal believe that while the WEP law is flawed in that it reduces Social Security benefits by too much, they also believe that without the WEP retirees receiving pensions from work not covered by Social Security would receive an unwarranted increase in their Social Security benefit.
The compromise WEP reform bills filed by Richie Neal and Kevin Brady seek to address this point, by revising the Social Security formula to accurately base account for contributions into Social Security vs. time paid into a non-covered plan. The two bills would also rebate part of the WEP reduction back to current retirees through a monthly Social Security benefit increase ranging from $100 to $150 per month.
Unfortunately, a similar problem exists when it comes to the GPO – the law that reduces or even eliminates spousal Social Security benefits. Majority support does not exist in the Senate to move forward with GPO reform, never mind full repeal.
As retiree advocates, the political reality we face is real. Do we continue to chase rainbows in support of full repeal legislation that has no viable path forward to becoming law or do we choose to focus on the passage of WEP reform legislation, which does have a realistic path to become law in 2022?
While not an easy pill to swallow, to us the choice is clear. We must focus on turning the possible into reality and bring up to $1,800 a year in relief to the 2 million retirees now harmed by the WEP. This path would also save future retirees from the same fate.
The truth can be disappointing. In this case, the truth is that H.R.82 is nothing more than fool’s gold. Sadly, this type of political gamesmanship threatens progress on what is the first legitimate effort to reform the WEP since the laws creation in 1983. Those seeking nothing but the perfect solution will have no one but themselves to blame come away emptyhanded once again.
If nothing else, we owe our members the honest truth – in addition to our every effort to make bring relief to retirees. You can expect nothing less.