H.R. 5483, the Railroad Retirement Disability Earnings Act of 2006, passed the House on the 27th of September and was forwarded to the Senate on the following day. Politics were being played and Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) put a hold on the bill, meaning it could not move forward until the hold was removed. Conjecture has it that the hold was placed at the request of the Carriers because they were mad at the UTU for not playing ball. An alert went out to BLET and Auxiliary members to call Senator Enzi’s office, and apparently the message got through. The bill, however, will not be addressed until the lame duck session following the November elections.
H.R. 5074, the Railroad Retirement Technical Improvement Act, which keeps the Treasury Department as the disbursing agent for funds, passed both houses. If this change had not gone through it would have cost the Railroad Retirement Fund an additional $600,000, if the job had been turned over to a private contractor as required in a provision of the 2001 Railroad Retirement Reform.
The Port Security bill was reconciled by the House and Senate Conference Committee and the $1.2 million for Rail Security was taken out. So much for walking the walk when it comes to Rail Security.
Alexander Kummant, the new President of Amtrak testified on September 28 before the House Subcommittee on Railroads. It remains to be seen whether he will try to fix the Amtrak system, or merely be the pawn to dismantle Amtrak. Since Railroad Retirement reforms were implemented in 2002, the fund has strengthened, and another decrease in the employer/employee tax rate is expected in January. However, if outsourcing and contracting out continues on Amtrak, the fund could go into a deficit slide in the future, requiring Congressional intervention. For every railroad position that is lost, the impact on the railroad retirement fund is $160,000. If Amtrak is eliminated, a multi-billion dollar shortfall is expected in 20 years or less. SAVE AMTRAK! The appropriation bill is still in conference committee to work out the difference between the House and Senate funding levels.