Seeking to boost his standing with frustrated blue-collar voters, President Joe Biden on Wednesday will use the backdrop of a union training center in Cleveland, Ohio, to tell workers his policies will shore up troubled pension funding for millions now on the job or retired.
Hurt politically by inflation at a 40-year high and damages wrought by the pandemic, the president is anchoring his message to workers in the former election bellwether of Ohio. The Buckeye State has been trending strongly Republican with Donald Trump easily carrying it twice, and this is President Biden's fourth visit as president as he labors to personally reverse that electoral tide.
The president's speech at the Iron Workers Local 17 Training Center is timed to the announcement of a final administrative rule that is tied to his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package from last year. The rule allows troubled multi-company pensions to be made financially whole, ensuring full benefits for 2 million to 3 million workers and retirees.
The roughly 200 pension plans receiving assistance faced possible insolvency without government aid. Without the full benefits, workers and retirees could struggle to pay for housing, food and other essentials. The financial support should help keep the pension funds solvent for roughly 30 years until 2051.
Multiemployer plans are created through agreements between companies and a union, and are insured by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). In 2014, Congress passed the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act that allowed plans, for the first time, to cut workers and retirees' benefits in order to ensure that pensions projected to run out of money remained solvent.
The American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021 included a special finance assistance program that allows struggling multiemployer pension plans to apply to the PBGC for assistance. The final rule being unveiled by the Biden administration is designed to make it easier for the pensions' investments to receive a higher rate of return.
The effort to highlight a program to bolster union workers comes as Democrats hope to pick up a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, where a strong showing with working class voters could play a pivotal role.
Republican Rob Portman is leaving the Senate after two terms. Vying to replace him are Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance, the author of the memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" who secured an endorsement during the primary from Trump. Ohio voters backed Trump in 2016 and 2020, with his margin of victory each time at roughly 8 percentage points.
While President Biden boasts of steady job growth — unemployment sits at 3.6% — Americans have largely been discontented with the Democratic president's handling of the economy as inflation continues to rise, interest rates increase and the stock market wobbles. Just 28% approve of the president's stewardship of the economy, down from 51% a year ago, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published last week.
President Biden has made extensive commitments to boost Ohio's economy. But his efforts suffered a recent setback as Intel postponed the July 22 groundbreaking for a computer chip plant near the state capital of Columbus. The decision came after a planned investment of more than $50 billion in the semiconductor industry stalled in Congress.
President Biden has highlighted the planned computer chip plant as a commitment to U.S. manufacturing, part of the message he hopes to stress by aiding pensions for plant workers.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.