Perfect cure, unless it kills you

Thursday - 8/4/2011, 2:00am EDT

Explanations of the partial debt-reduction package Congress passed (before fleeing the city for yet another extended vacation) are somewhat like the small-print warnings that accompany miracle cure products advertised on TV.

The miracle cures, often as low as $19.95 plus postage and handling — probably another $19.95 — promise to give you thicker eyebrows, whiter teeth or make you regular (for what and how often?). But there is also a legally-required disclaimer noting that side effects may include blindness, sudden death or an extended colon that could stretch across Rhode Island. Which is like the debt limit compromise...

Most people agree on only one thing. The debt crisis (like the nation's staggering debt itself) isn't solved. At best it is put on hold until the people who, in part, caused it return after Labor Day and take a look at the recommendations that a 12-member bipartisan, House-Senate panel make for curing the nation's staggering credit card bill.

Whether there is a cure or not depends in large part on the makeup of the panel, which is supposed to have a series of cuts in government programs ready for an up-or-down vote by the House and Senate.

Some insiders speculate that the Senate bond between Vice President Joseph Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was a critical factor in bringing liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans into the fold. In the case of the new panel, if the members are ideological whack-jobs (of the right or left) intent on destroying the village in order to save it, not much will happen. We will have a Turkey Day repeat of what we've just gone through.

For starters, it would be nice if House leaders don't name anyone to the panel who had a hand in the brain-dead action which has furloughed FAA employees involved in engineering and air safety. Bosses that furlough innocent workers and cost the company money — as the FAA shutdown is doing — should also suffer a pay freeze until the next election.

Even if the panel does it's job and proposes tough but necessary cuts it will depend, in the end, on how Americans, who are demanding lower taxes and a less expensive government, react when programs that touch them are curtailed or eliminated.

So which federal benefits are on the line, and what's the danger?

The answer depends on who you ask.

The White House says the caps on discretionary spending will "put us on track to reduce non-defense spending to its lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was President" during the 1950s. Considering the population increase since then, and the so-called " Eisenhower recession", that may or may not be such a great goal.

Some budget-watchers believe that federal and military retirement programs (the former a major target of recent cost-cutting proposals) are relatively safe. But groups representing federal workers and retirees say just the opposite. They think it is entirely possible and indeed likely that the bipartisan, bicameral panel will recommend that federal workers kick in more toward their retirement, that the retirement formula be made less generous, that workers and retirees pay a bigger share of their health premiums and government be reduced via a hiring freeze and attrition.

On yesterday's Your Turn radio show we talked with Daniel Hirsch, the State Vice President for the American Foreign Service Association, and Federal Times reporters Steve Losey and Sean Reilly. Their in-depth take on what could happen and what is likely to happen is worth hearing. The show is archived so you can click here to listen anytime.

Meantime, here's hoping we get longer, silkier eyelashes as promised without those pesky — like sudden death — side effects.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Think your elementary school teachers were bad? Before Margaret Hamilton, who famously portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, began her acting career, she was originally a kindergarten teacher.


MORE FROM FEDERAL NEWS RADIO

SESers to have new metrics by September
John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, made the announcement in a memo to agency secretaries detailing the efforts of a new interagency working group of the President's Management Council to develop a new approach to performance.

Another six weeks of partial-FAA shutdown
A last-ditch effort to avert another six weeks of a partial shutdown for the Federal Aviation Administration fizzled out in the Senate Tuesday afternoon as lawmakers appeared all but certain to depart to their home districts for the August recess period without reaching a compromise.

Where is the best place to work?
Where is the best place to work in the federal government? Fill out our quick survey! (Results will be featured in an upcoming issue of Washingtonian Magazine.)