It could have been worse. Really?

Friday - 2/17/2012, 2:00am EST

While working on a farm in Kentucky I fell from the top rafters of a barn. I hit my chin on the way down (still have the scars), broke a small bone in my foot and landed on a 300-pound Duroc boar (that's a large boy pig) who took issue with my arrival.

As I lay bleeding, battered and fending off Big Duane (the boar) with a stick and prayer, my uncle came over and said it could have been worse.

Of course he was correct. And yet ...

This must be the way a lot of long-suffering federal workers are feeling these days. Bruised, battered but alive. So far.

Everywhere feds look, from the White House to the House and Senate, people are looking to take a chunk out of feds' collective hides. The White House still loves you, but ...

Most Democratic members of the House say they support feds and want to minimize their pain, but ...

Many Republicans (especially newcomers to the House) don't fake it. They don't profess to love, or even like, bureaucrats very much. They have proposals for serious cuts, but ...

So, who's on first?

Politicians are coming at federal workers (not retirees, so far) from so many directions you need a scorecard to keep track. There were a half dozen efforts — task forces, blue ribbon commissions, congressional panels and finally the supercommittee that fizzled. All of them looked at, or proposed, ways to cut federal pay and benefit costs. None — repeat NONE — of them did anything. But all of them set the mood and the stage for changes that could very well be approved this year.

After an 18-month political and media campaign to show that feds are overpaid, any way you slice it, it appears talk will be replaced by action. Workers are wondering whether they should retire and if they will have time to get out before major changes — as in cuts — take place. Confusion is the new normal.

So where are we, as of today:

  • One congressional compromise worked out this week (subject to failure) would reportedly raise $15 billion in revenue to extend unemployment benefits. That would happen by raising by 0.75 percent the biweekly amount you pay into your FERS or CSRS retirement account. The change would be phased in over three years for current feds, but effective immediately for people hired starting in January, 2013.

  • The White House has again proposed increasing CSRS and FERS contributions by 0.4 percent over each of the next three years. Currently CSRS workers contributed 7 percent of salary to their retirement. FERS employees, the largest retirement component of the federal government, now contribute 0.8 percent. It would also eliminate the so-called FERS Social Security supplement — which is worth thousands of dollars a year — for FERS employees who retire before age 62 when they begin drawing Social Security. Workers forced to retire before age 62, people like air traffic controllers, and law enforcement personnel, would continue to get the FERS supplement. That proposal, as currently written, would apply only to people hired after the end of this year. It also calls for a 0.5 percent pay raise next year signaling it wants the pay freeze to end.

  • There are other proposals (such as H.R. 7 the highway bill) that would incorporate some of the changes listed above. And then some. It would eliminate the FERS Social Security supplement for current and future employees, reduce benefits, increase contributions and base retirement benefits for new hires on their highest five-year average salary. Current workers would continue (at least for now) to have benefits based on their high-three.

  • A bill by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) would increase retirement contributions by 1.5 for current employees. New hires would pay 4 percent into their FERS pension fund, and under a new proposed formula, get annuities reduced as much as 40 percent from current FERS payments.

  • The Associated Press and Congressional Quarterly reported: "The biggest last-minute stumbling block (of the Joint House-Senate conference committee on H.R. 3630) was over how to make federal workers contribute $15 billion in the coming decade toward the cost of the deal. The two Maryland Democrats in the room, Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, objected strenuously to the idea of requiring all government employees (thousands of whom are their constituents) to put an additional 1.5 percent of their pay toward their retirement accounts. Initially, they pushed instead to hold down the size of the civilian employee COLA for next year. Ultimately, they agreed to raise the money by requiring federal workers hired in the future to contribute more (2.3 percent) to the defined benefit pension plans, while holding existing workers harmless."