Your Vote Matters – Really Matters!
Editorial by Becky Schneider
National Past President
“I love my
dog, he does nothing for political reasons.” Will
There are many disturbing trends in the political theater of our country nowadays:
Regardless of your party affiliation, I think we can agree on these points, which constitute only a very few of the problems facing our country’s politics, but they are big ones.
A realistic counter to the above points are:
The “Ryan Budget Plan” that recently passed the House of Representatives a few weeks ago, along with actions of some very right-leaning Governors, are representative of some of the problems we are facing. It’s serious business.
As it pertains to railroaders, one section of the Budget Committee Report states that by conforming Railroad Retirement Tier 1 to Social Security, the taxpayers would realize a savings of $2 Billion. That statement is completely false. As we all know, the added benefits under our Tier 1 are bought and paid for by us through employer and employee contributions, not taxpayer money. It’s true that for now we don’t have to worry about this piece of fiction moving forward – for now. All that could change based on the outcome of the November elections.
Congress has been trying to get their mitts on our retirement for as long as I can remember going back to the early 1980s. When we were finally successful in getting the Railroad Retirement Reform Act (RRRA) passed in 2001, it happened in part because of two key changes in circumstance. First, the Speaker of the House lost his patience with the W Bush White House because of their failure to follow his direction to negotiate in good faith. He brought the bill to the floor for a vote. Even with the lies proffered by our illustrious representatives during the debate, the bill passed and moved on to the Senate. At the time, the Republicans were in control of the Senate by a razor thin margin and our bill was going nowhere, in part thanks to my then-Senator Phil Gramm who put a hold on the bill. Because one senator lost patience with his party and changed his affiliation from Republican to Independent, caucusing with the Democratic party, the Democrats were able to become the majority party.
Between the time of the House passage of the RRRA and the change in leadership in the Senate, we experienced the horrific events of September 11. The Reform Coalition, made up of the carriers, all but one rail labor union, and the retirees, decided it was in the best interest of the country to suspend lobbying for the bill and allow the Senate to do what needed to be done to heal our country. However, several senators apparently did not feel that was necessary and continued hammering the RRRA in their efforts to keep us from being able to better utilize our money and our investments. It wasn’t until the change in leadership that we had a chance to bring the bill forward. Mind you, a bill that had 75 out of 100 senators as co-sponsors.
I am putting forth these details to explain how two simple turns of events reshaped the debate, and allowed a bill to finally pass that should have sailed through Congress because there was no cost to the taxpayer. Senator Gramm personally told me on his way to one of the many procedural votes on the bill: “if I were a railroader I’d vote for this bill, but I represent the taxpayers so I will vote against it.” Aside from making no sense, what he really wanted was to keep our $15 billion in the Treasury, so they could use it to prop up their creative accounting numbers. And that is exactly the “smoke and mirrors” game that is being played again with the Ryan Budget Plan. Because our Railroad Retirement Fund is administered by the Federal Government, the funds contained in it are, on paper, part of the U.S. Treasury, Those funds, however, can be used for nothing other than our retirement system.
I’ve always preached against being a one-issue voter, and for the most part I still stand by my beliefs. But in this instance, this could be a turning point in our future, not just for those railroad employees who have retired or are close to it, but also those who still have long careers ahead of them. If the Budget Committee is confused about the savings to taxpayers if Railroad Retirement is conformed to Social Security, then perhaps we should pause and think about what else might not be exactly truthful. Some economists have said that the Ryan Budget Plan would actually put our country in worse financial straits.
Come November, if the fanatical right wing wins, at least Railroaders, and probably the rest of us who are not millionaires and have to actually work for a living, are in for some very dark days.
Remember, every vote counts, so do your homework, get to the polls, and vote for what is best for you and your family come November!