WASHINGTON -- Help could be on the way for the Big 3 and other companies weighed down by employee pension funds that, at least on paper, are short by tens of billions of dollars.
General Motors, for example, owes its pension fund about $19 billion.
The companies are pushing for a bill in Congress that would establish a new benchmark for calculating how much money they should be setting aside to pay benefits for retirees in the future.
The existing formula is pegged to the 30-year Treasury bill rate, which has dropped to historic lows. That means fund administrators have to assume a lower return on pension investments, which in turn means employers have to put more cash in now - tens of billions more when all of the nation's large employers are added together.
The congressional bill would use an index of corporate bonds for the formula - a much higher rate than the 30-year Treasury figure.
The Bush administration is proposing an alternative, a yield curve for corporate bonds with different rates and different maturity dates over time.
"The yield curve approach would not help," says GM spokesman Chris Preuss.
Others take an even harsher view.