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Portman calls on pension panel to shed partisanship

Even before it’s begun its work, a committee aimed at solving a pension crisis that imperils the retirement savings of 1.5 million retirees nationwide and 60,000 Ohioans risks dividing along partisan lines, an Ohio senator warned Wednesday.

Making his first comments before the Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans Wednesday, Sen. Rob Portman, R–Ohio, said he was concerned about reports that Democrats on the panel met privately beforehand to agree on strategy.

Portman, one of 16 members of the bipartisan, bicameral panel, said he’s worked on similarly structured panels before, only to see them fail to find a solution because they lined up on partisan lines. He said lawmakers serving on the committee have to shed their partisan divisions because if they don’t, “this is done…we might as well not waste our time.”

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“It’s only an opportunity if we really look at this differently… and figure out how to go to the data, go to the information, come up with a longer term solution that works and not be stuck on our individual biases,” Portman said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a co–chair of the panel, said while Democrats on the panel met beforehand, he also met with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other individual members of the committee, and has been holding bipartisan meetings on this issue for months.

“I start with no preconditions,” he said, vowing “this is going to work.”

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The panel has until November to craft a plan that would be put before the House and Senate with an up-or-down vote.

At issue are multi–employer pensions created in order to allow employers to pool resources and provide their workers retirement security. While some 10 million workers are served by 1,400 multi-employer plans nationwide, some 150 to 200 plans, covering 1.5 million workers and retirees, could run out of money within the next 20 years, according to the Pension Rights Center.

Brown said while he liked a bill he has introduced with Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat on the panel, he was hopeful the panel would come up with a “panoply” of options.

“This is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.

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