Portman says 20,000 Americans ‘left behind’ by Obama admin’s Delphi decision

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman told The Daily Caller that he thinks President Barack Obama’s administration – and specifically Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – need to stop withholding information about the Delphi pension scandal from Congress and the American people.

“What American taxpayers should be looking at is how the administration has not provided us with the information to be able to understand what happened to over 20,000 Americans who apparently were left behind during the taxpayer-funded bailout,” Portman said in a phone interview. “We’ve been trying for years – since 2009 – and the administration has not been willing to be transparent and let us know what really happened. We are eager to get the administration before my committee, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the oversight committee in the House and to have a full investigation of this.”

During the 2009 auto bailout, the Treasury Department and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) worked together on and eventually axed pensions for 20,000 non-union salaried retirees who worked for Delphi. Those workers’ pension plans lost between 30 and 70 percent of their value, while similar plans covering members of the United Auto Workers and other labor unions were preserved and made whole.

For three years since, Obama administration officials have claimed in congressional testimony and court filings that it was the PBGC – a federal government agency that handles private-sector pension benefits issues – that made the decisions in this case. The PBGC’s charter calls for independent representation of pension beneficiaries’ interests.

But, on Aug. 7, The Daily Caller published internal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) emails showing that senior White House and Treasury officials were instrumental in the pension terminations.

Those emails show that Treasury was the driving force behind terminating those pensions — a move made in 2009 while the Obama administration implemented its auto bailout plan. The emails contradict sworn testimony in which several government figures have consistently said that the decision to terminate the pensions came from the PBGC.

On Wednesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp demanded the Obama White House, Treasury Department and PBGC turn related documents over to him by Sept. 7. Portman said he “applaud[s]” Camp for that, and hopes the administration will comply.

“We’re not asking for anything that hasn’t been promised by the administration from its outset,” Portman said. “It’s transparency. And, it appears that some of the previous testimony they’ve given was inaccurate based on emails that you were able to obtain and I think that they owe the American taxpayers answers. And, I think they certainly owe the Delphi retirees answers.”

Portman added that the reason he thinks the Obama administration hasn’t been forthcoming thus far is because it’d be an “embarrassment to them if it came out that they favored one group over an another.”

“Based on the emails you uncovered, it appears they showed a preference for some employees over others even though publicly they’ve said that’s not the case,” Portman said. “I assume they would prefer this just not come up.”

There’s been bipartisan support for investigating this issue – Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Ohio Democratic Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Tim Ryan are among the Democrats who have vocally demanded the Obama administration release the documents. Portman echoed that bipartisan sentiment in his phone interview with TheDC, saying: “To me, it’s not political. It’s about people.”

“We’ve got a lot of them in Ohio and I’ve gotten to know many of these folks firsthand,” Portman said. “They worked for and supported Delphi and GM for decades. Certain promises were made and folks who happened to be members of a union were taken care of but they [the non-union Delphi salaried retirees] weren’t.”

“It has a real impact on these families,” Portman continued. “I’ve gotten to know a bunch of these folks over the years and they’re not asking for something special – they’re certainly not asking for a handout. What they’re asking for is fairness. They worked hard through the years, many over three decades, with these pensions being part of their compensation package and they look around and see their colleagues who happen to be members of unions taken care of and they’re fine – but for them, it’s taken a terrible toll. When you’re in your late 50s or early 60s, you can’t get a job and you’re left without the pension that you worked for for all those years.”

As one example, Portman points to Delphi salaried retiree Bruce Gump. “He worked there for 33 years, at GM and Delphi,” the Ohio Republican said. “This has taken away his pension that he was relying on. He was going to pay part of his kid’s education. He was going to be able to have a decent retirement with it. That’s been changed now. So, again, he’s not looking for something special. He’s just looking for what he earned during his three decades of work.”

Portman added that he did support – and still does support – the auto bailout, but that the lack of Obama administration transparency surrounding the decision-making processes is troubling.

“I think that it is inevitable, when the government has a heavy hand in the private sector, that there are winners and losers,” Portman said. “I’m glad that the auto industry is back and I did not oppose the auto industry getting support to get back on its feet. My concern at the time, frankly, was that Ohio was getting the short end of the stick because three different factories including one I was right next to last week – three Ohio plants were shuttered.”

“We lost hundreds if not thousands of employees here in Ohio after a $50 billion taxpayer infusion,” Portman said. “I also thought the way they handled the bondholders – not letting bondholders get their rightful position in the bankruptcy – was a bad precedent, as was the Delphi situation.”

“The support from the federal government started, of course, during the Bush administration,” he continued. “The Bush administration commanded several reforms in order to provide that help. The Obama administration then came in and put the government’s hand on the scales in a heavier way so there were more decisions made – like the Delphi one, like the bondholder one, like what happened with the dealers, and which plants closed and which ones didn’t – they were decisions by government. That’s a dangerous precedent. So, yes, there was a need for some help and support – I didn’t oppose the bailout. But, I did express concerns about the way in which it was handled by the Obama administration.”

Portman said the remedy to those concerns is for the administration to come clean about its decision-making process. “Let’s learn from it,” Portman said. “Let’s find out exactly what happened and who made the decision. If it was a PBGC decision made on policy, that’s one thing. If it was an arbitrary decision made by the Treasury Department as a political matter, we need to know that.”

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