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Remarks of Former U.S. Representative Jake Pickle on Receiving the Jacob Javits Award

Remarks of Former U.S. Rep. Jake Pickle
on Receiving the Jacob Javits Award
for Outstanding Contribution to Retirement Security

First let me say how honored I am to receive this recognition tonight and to let you know how deeply I regret that distance and age prevent me from being with you in person. I say this because you are all engaged in work that is of vital national importance.

Retirement income security is one of the great and enduring challenges that we face as individuals and as a nation. In 1974 we stepped up to that challenge when President Ford signed into law the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, landmark legislation that Senator Jacob Javits had so tirelessly championed in Congress. It is entirely appropriate that we gather here this evening to celebrate the passage of ERISA and the protection that it has provided to tens of millions of American workers and retirees.

However, it is also appropriate that we recognize that in a dynamic society such as ours, the challenge of securing workers' retirements is never ending. Since 1974 leaders in the Congress and the Administration have repeatedly stepped up to this challenge. As a Member of Congress it was my privilege to work with many dedicated people in this effort. People such as my House colleagues Charlie Vanik, Jim Corman, Dick Schulze, and Amo Houghton. Senate leaders such as Sam Nunn, Bob Dole, and Lloyd Bentsen. And, leaders from within the Administration such as former PBGC Executive Directors Kathy Utgoff, Jim Lockhart, and Marty Slate, and Secretaries of Labor Elizabeth Dole, Lynn Martin and Robert Reich. Their dedication over the years has made the promise of ERISA a reality.

Finally we must recognize that despite our best efforts ERISA remains a work in progress. As the result of increased foreign competition, a rapidly changing US economy, and the looming retirement of the "Baby Boom" generation, retirement security is as great a challenge today as it was 30 years ago. It is sobering to realize that company sponsored defined benefit pension plans are underfunded by several hundred billion dollars and that the PBGC is now reporting that its own deficit is over $23 billion. If our system of employer sponsored defined benefit pension plans is to survive we must find a better way to ensure that employers fund their own pension promises. Unless we make these changes, the U.S. taxpayers will inevitably inherit huge losses, because Congress will be tempted to 'pass the buck'.

And so I commend PBGC's Executive Director Brad Belt and all those who work at the PBGC for the important job they do in protecting the retirements of millions of American workers. I also commend all of the distinguished guests gathered here this evening for their continuing efforts to give all Americans the opportunity to have a secure income in retirement. May God bless you and guide you in this vital work.