Kennedy opposed bill may try again on multi-employer plan aid. (Photo courtesy of office of Senator Kennedy)

Despite attempts by some Democrats to block passage, the Senate has approved legislation that gives employers some relief in funding their companies pension plans, but the help is only temporary and doesn't extend to most multi-employer plans. The vote on April 8 was 78-19.

The bill now goes to President Bush, who is expected to sign it by April 15, the quarterly deadline for companies to make contributions to their pension funds. In a statement, the White House termed the bill "crucial" and a "responsible package that will help protect the integrity of workers' pensions."

The legislation, which the House approved April 2, is aimed at the traditional pension plans that individual companies offer. . The bill changes the standard that employers use to determine their pension liability from the 30-year Treasury bond interest rate, to the rate on a group of corporate bonds. That rate change is estimated to lower companies' contributions by $80 billion. The new standard is only in effect through Dec. 31, 2005, however. Lawmakers in the House and Senate call the bill a temporary fix and hope to work out more comprehensive legislation over the next two years.

But critics note that the bill only helps a small number of multi-employer plans, which are used in construction, trucking and some other industries. The original Senate bill, passed Jan. 28, included provisions to help multi-employer programs. The House version, approved last October, did not. The White House promised to veto the final bill if it included the multi-employer language.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) initially pledged to block the bill on the Senate floor. "It's unconscionable for Congress and the administration to shut [multi-employer plans] out of this relief that other pension plans are about to receive," he said. But Kennedy and his allies were unable to amass enough support to halt the bill.

Kennedy has indicated that he might try and attach the multi-employer provision to other legislation pending before the Senate.