Politics, when all is

said and done, is the
business of belief and

Hope energizes, doubt
destroys.  Hopelessness is
not our heritage. 

Hugh Sidey – 1979

The above quote is conspicuously mounted in a frame on the wall of Senator Chuck Hagel’s senatorial office in Washington.  Mr. Hagel is a second term Republican from Nebraska.  As I have been quoted as saying before, politics as practiced in this country, is the process by which we manage the affairs of a large diverse democracy.  I’m not at all sure, yet, how the above quote fits into my definition, but perhaps you can be of help.   

It is with some satisfaction that I’m able to report that the National Retiree Legislative Network (NRLN) is not only alive and well, but making continued progress toward our objectives.  To be sure, problems and issues that adversely affect retirees and older workers continue to plague most of us.  Nearly every day we read in our local newspapers about another company that has seen fit to attack its retirees with more of what we’ve learned to call “take aways”.  It is also true that there remain more problems in this area than there are clean solutions.  Also, admittedly, there does appear to be a heck of a lot of more companies withdrawing or canceling benefits than ever before.  All of this, my friends, is a very nasty trend.  I could detail over several pages examples of companies and public institutions breaking promises, and even contracts, with their former employees in order to gain financial gain on their ever loving “balance sheets”.  To explain the obvious, they do this by cutting and eliminating promised benefits in every way the current law allows.  Rather than use this space for more of this, I suggest that you peruse your local newspapers where stories about retirees losing benefits they earned are discussed.  Let it suffice to say, that like me, most retirees are “mad as hell and looking for ways to do something about it”. 

We got a late start. The NRLN is just barely three years old, and we have a whale of a lot of catching up to do.  On the off chance that you may not know much about who we are and what we do, let me briefly explain.  The NRLN is a loosely organized federation of Retiree Organizations and At-Large-Members.  We all support the notion that somehow and someway we must find a way to stop the onslaught of benefits and pension deterioration that is taking place all over America.  It is being perpetrated against retirees, who, by and large, are defenseless.  The old ERISA laws passed in the 70’s to protect retirees has been amended and judiciously interpreted in such a way as to be no longer a protection, but in fact has become a tool of corporate America.  The mission of the NRLN, very simply is to protect and enhance both pension and benefits that retirees worked and paid for as active employees.   

We are now starting our fourth year, and we have made significant inroads in gaining recognition and reputation of a “class act”.  We have earned this description by our actions from places where it counts most – in Congress, the newspaper press, and among our members.  Through some hard lessons over the last few years that our only progress will come, not from litigation, but from legislation – national legislation.  We are a grass roots, by and large voluntary, group of older and retired folks bound together by  common objectives – the protection and retention of the benefits that were promised us in retirement.  That is all we do.  We do not arrange for travel discounts.  We do not sell insurance.  We don’t look for anybody to sue. We’re non partisan, and we are neither pro-management nor pro-union.   

We have drafted a Bill (HR1322) that has been introduced into the House of Representatives.  Fundamentally, that Bill would require companies who promised, as part of their employment agreement to provide benefits in retirement, to live up to those promises. In other words, to deliver whatever was promised in retirement.  Like the old ERISA protection Bill, our legislation would require employers to fund those benefits during those working years.  That Bill has 87 co-sponsors, but it is still in “Committee”.   

In 2004 our Plan includes the research, the drafting, and the introduction of a new Bill.  We think the passage of the Prescription Drug Amendment has offered us an opportunity to capitalize on what many consider a major mistake by Congress.  Our new Bill, designed as an amendment to the Prescription Drug Act, would, hopefully, bring a number of new fresh ideas as it concerns health care for Medicare eligible retirees.  Almost no one really likes the recently passed drug amendment as it was written and passed.  Our work is now underway.  Among the principles that our Bill would utilize would be the principles of HR1322.  It would offer tax incentives to employers and would offer broad health care coverage to workers in retirement, including prescription drugs.  We have concluded that we must offer some tax incentive to employers to garner their support in final passage of the legislation.  This support has not been there for 1322. 

Two other major efforts of the NRLN for this year:  First, the undertaking of the responsibility of gathering together the ideas and talents of other organizations, foundations, etc. to see if we can develop a plan to address what we choose to call “an affordable health care plan”.  It may seem to you, as it does to us, a somewhat audacious scheme to attempt to succeed where Hillary Clinton failed.  Even with unlimited resources, her plan never got off the ground.  Because you, I, and millions of others continue to be impacted by the out of sight costs of health care, this is an issue which someone, somehow must solve.  One of our members, an IBM retiree, has taken on the chairmanship - a major effort.  If you think you can contribute to his committee, please let me know.  You will hear more about this as the year and plan unfold. 

Another major effort now underway, is an expansion of our membership to include anyone interested in our cause and who wants to join us in our commitment.  This will be a direct mail campaign offering membership to the NRLN in return for a monetary contribution.  As you, hopefully all know, we are the only major group in the country who has undertaken as a single cause, the protection of benefits for older Americans. 

In future publications, we’ll be asking you for help. (We are, after all, a grass roots organization.)  We need and are going to ask for a massive uprising of citizens to utilize their votes and voices to affect meaningful changes in Washington.  A more detailed description and plan will be in forth-coming newsletters. 

Remember, for updated information on NRLN news and its membership, visit this website regularly.   

More to come – good luck.

Jim Norby


  Full text of H.R.1322

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  Last modified: Oct 11, 07