Some 300 teachers protested outside Tom DeLay's office in Sugar Land yesterday after he refused to bring a bill that would benefit them to a floor vote.
About 300 public school employees from Houston, Fort Bend, Brazosport and other school districts rallied at DeLay's Stafford office, blaming the House majority leader for not bringing to a floor vote House Resolution Bill 594, the Social Security Fairness Act.
The Act, which has enough votes to pass in the House, would allow teachers and other government employees who have had other jobs to receive full Social Security benefits. DeLay has said the bill could bankrupt Social Security.
Teachers such as Randy Elms, who carried signs like "DeLay denies Teachers," say the current policy is unfair to Texas educators.
"If I would die today, he would get no Social Security benefits," said the 50-year-old middle school teacher, nodding toward his 10-year-old son, Ryan. Both were bundled in their coats as they stood outside DeLay's office in the cold weather.
Teachers who pay into the Teacher Retirement System receive that pension fund upon retirement but do not receive full Social Security benefits even if they paid into it and are vested, Texas Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer John O'Sullivan said at the rally. Spouses and children of teachers do not receive full Social Security benefits either, he said.
HR 594 would allow teachers and their families to receive full Social Security benefits upon retirement or disability in addition to the teacher pension.
The bill has 277 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, including 23 from Texas, with a majority needed to pass. DeLay has the power to prevent a vote, said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. Texas is one of 12 states that considers teachers public servants and requires them to live off their teacher pensions, even if they had other careers before or afterward, he said.
DeLay's office released a statement that said HR 594 would add more than $50 billion over the next 10 years to the Social Security program. He was not at the rally.
To be honest, I have no idea if this bill is a good idea or not. Fifty billion over ten years isn't going to break the federal budget, but no matter how dishonest DeLay is on the subject, adding to the current record deficits really should give us pause. And just because a bill is popular doesn't mean it's good policy (see, for example, every anti-flag burning bill that's ever reared its ugly head).
But still. Two hundred seventy-seven sponsors, and no vote? Maybe if they added in a corporate tax cut, that might do the trick. One must remember one's priorities, after all.
UPDATE: The following comment from Diogenes gives a good reason why this bill should be passed.
My mother is approaching retirement age, and taught in Texas public schools for almost 20 years. As such, she contributed to the Texas Teacher Retirement System (TRS). But she came to teaching later in life; she worked a number of jobs before teaching, during which she contributed to Social Security for long enough to be eligible for benefits (normally) when she retires.
The only problem is this: unlike most people, who get both Social Security and pension or other retirement benefits, teachers aren't allowed to collect Social Security.
The unspoken assumption of the system is that teachers do nothing but teach for their entire career, and so couldn't possibly contribute enough to Social Security to be eligible for benefits. That's just false. There's also consequences for spousal and disability benefits. In effect, the system is set up as an unfair tax on teachers and their families.
The odd thing is that it can depend on what job one retires from. There are some teaching jobs in the state that contribute to both TRS and SS. If you retire from one of those jobs, you're entitled to receive both benefits.
Teachers in the know search out these jobs when approaching retirement. Some of them will even let you work there for a day or two and then retire, just so that you can get the benefits to which you should be entitled. Fortunately, my mother has found one of those jobs. But many aren't so lucky.