Monday, October 17, 2005

Strong words

And yet, not too strong. From today's WaPo, on a bill that would require companies to fully fund their pension plans, rather than pass the problem of underfunded pensions off to taxpayers:

... So it turns out that legislation that had once been close to passage does the opposite of what's intended. Nobody in Congress was told this until it was almost too late.

This, unfortunately, says a lot about the Bush administration: about its incompetence in handling economic issues and its cowardice in dealing with Congress. At some point in the past fortnight or so, the administration must belatedly have done enough analysis to understand that the Senate and House bills were going in the wrong direction, but it didn't breathe a word. The idea of publishing numbers that would have forced it to veto a bill written by Republican committee chairmen appears to have been too much for the Bush team. Remember, Mr. Bush is the first president since John Quincy Adams to have completed a full term in the White House without vetoing a single bill.

The result is that the nation is ducking a clear challenge. Defined-benefit pension plans in companies nationwide are underfunded to the tune of $450 billion, and ultimately taxpayers may be on the hook for some of that. It's obvious that globalization is putting huge competitive pressure on old-line corporations -- the type most likely to have defined-benefit plans -- and that many of these may go bankrupt. It's also obvious that, with the coming baby bust, past pension promises can't be swept under the carpet anymore. And yet, however obvious, politicians are too corrupt and cowardly to tackle the problem.

Throw in a few expletives and that's an editorial I would have been proud to write.


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