(Senate - December 09, 2003)

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[Page S16150]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                 UNANIMOUS CONSENT AGREEMENT--H.R. 3108

  Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that at a time to 
be determined by the majority leader, in consultation with the minority 
leader, the Senate proceed to consideration of H.R. 3108, the House-
passed pensions bill, and that it be considered under the following 
limitations: That the only amendments in order be relating to the 
following topics: pension discount rate, deficit reduction contribution 
relief, multi-employer plan relief. I further ask that the following 
amendments be the only first-degree amendments in order and that any 
second-degree amendments be relevant to the first-degree amendment to 
which they are offered: No. 1, Frist-Daschle managers' amendment; three 
amendments by the majority leader or his designee; and three amendments 
by the minority leader or his designee.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The minority leader.
  Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, reserving the right to object--and I 
certainly will not--I just wish to indicate to the majority leader how 
pleased I am that at long last we have been able to get to this point. 
This has been a very difficult negotiation involving many Members. I 
think it is very important that we ultimately accomplish the passage of 
this legislation. This obviously does not bring us to a point where we 
will finalize the bill, but I think it sets us up in a way that will 
allow the completion of our work shortly after we return. That is the 
message we need to send on a bipartisan basis, and I appreciate the 
majority leader's leadership in getting us to this point. I will work 
with him as we coordinate the amendment time and debate, but I hope we 
can do this soon after we return. I expect we will complete our work at 
some point shortly after that. I thank him, and I have no objection.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, in the weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving 
holiday, and in the time since then, we have been trying to reach an 
agreement with respect to pension funding rules. As many of my 
colleagues are aware, the temporary pension discount rate relief we 
enacted in 2001 expires at the end of this year. There is virtually 
unanimous agreement that we need to replace the outdated 30 year 
treasury bill rate with a long-term corporate bond rate. However, 
absent some action by the House and the Senate, the statutory rate that 
pension plans must use to calculate their assets and liabilities will 
snap-back to the old 30-year rate. This will result in companies with 
pension plans having to assume that they will be making large 
contributions to their plans in the year to come.
  Equally important, in my view, has been an effort to provide relief 
from the deficit reduction contribution, DRC, requirements that certain 
plans are now facing. Under the current pension funding rules, 
companies that offer defined benefit pension plans are required to make 
additional contributions to those plans when they are less than 90 
percent funded. A pension plan's funding level is determined by 
comparing the plan's current assets to its promised benefits and then 
calculating whether the two will match up by the time the benefits 
promised are due.
  The recent drop in the stock market, low interest rates, and generous 
pension benefits agreed to in better times have caused many defined 
benefit pension plans to fall well beneath this 90 percent threshold. 
As a result, many companies are being required to make substantial 
additional contributions at the time they can least afford them. The 
Finance Committee-reported bill, which I support, included 3 years of 
DRC relief.
  Despite our best efforts, it is clear that we will not be able to 
reach an agreement before the end of the year. We have, however, 
entered into a unanimous consent agreement that gives us a plan for 
addressing this issue when we return early next year. It is my belief 
that this issue can be wrapped up with one or two days of debate and 
that a conference agreement should follow shortly thereafter.
  Replacing the current 30-year Treasury rate with a long-term 
corporate bond rate is a critically important issue, not only to the 
companies themselves but their employees as well. Equally important, 
however, is the broader pension bill upon which Senator Grassley and 
Senator Baucus have worked so hard. Resolution of this more immediate 
issue is but a precursor to consideration of the larger pension reform 
bill. And even this is but a prelude to an effort to take a broader 
look at our nation's pension funding rules with an eye toward making 
more systematic reforms. I look forward to a spirited debate next year 
as we take the first step in this broader undertaking.