Senator renews push to reduce burden of pension offset

A bill reintroduced Tuesday in the Senate aims to scale back a pension offset that reduces Social Security benefits for some federal retirees.

The bill (S. 1254), introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., would ease the burden of a 1977 law that prevents certain retirees from collecting both a government annuity and spousal Social Security benefits.

"I'm fighting to address this cruel and heartless rule, and call on Congress and the Bush administration to work to find a solution to this problem," Mikulski said. "Congress needs to know how important this issue is to our nation's seniors who have dedicated their lives to the public."

Before 1977, retirees who received pensions under the Civil Service Retirement System and did not pay into Social Security still qualified for full spousal Social Security benefits. The Government Pension Offset reduces the spousal benefit granted government retirees who did not pay Social Security taxes by an amount equal to two-thirds of their pension.

Mikulski's legislation would do away with the two-thirds offset unless the combined amount of the pension plus the Social Security spousal benefit exceeds $1,200 per month.

Mikulski introduced the measure in the last few sessions of Congress, but it failed to make it out of the Senate Finance Committee. Two bills with similar goals already have been introduced this session; H.R. 82 and S. 206 seek a full repeal of the pension offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision, under which Social Security benefits are reduced for retirees who spent much of their careers working for organizations that do not withhold Social Security taxes. Both bills are currently in committee.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the increasing bipartisan support for reform may mean better prospects for passage of at least one of the bills this session.

"Increasing numbers of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are becoming aware of the problems the GPO and WEP cause federal retirees, and I am hopeful that Congress will act to modify these laws," she said.

Mikulski spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the estimated cost of the proposal is $5.6 billion over 10 years. A full repeal of GPO would cost about $38.1 billion over 10 years, she said.

According to the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, there are 390,000 Social Security beneficiaries currently affected by the government pension offset. "NARFE calls for Congress to immediately take up this discriminatory provision under the Social Security Act," said Margaret Baptiste, the group's president.

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