Pensions to feel bipartisan bite

Friday - 4/27/2012, 2:00am EDT

After more than a decade of unsuccessfully chipping away at the federal retirement program, Congress and the White House are poised to make workers kick in more of their salaries toward their pensions.

House Republicans have led the attack for the past two years. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a proposal yesterday that would phase in higher contributions for current federal and postal workers.

Under the bill, current employees would contribute an additional 1.5 percent of their salaries next year, 0.5 percent more in 2014 and another 1 percent in each year of 2015, 2016 and 2017. That would mean that workers under the old CSRS program would eventually contribute 12 percent of their salaries to their retirement. Those under the FERS program (the vast majority of people currently on the payroll) would see their retirement contributions rise to 5.8 percent. They would continue to contribute 6.2 percent to Social Security.

(Federal benefits, and especially the retirement system, have long been a sore spot with some politicians and nonfeds. The number of private-sector workers covered by employer-sponsored retirement plans has been steadily declining, because of the cost of the plans. Because feds contribute to their plans — most private workers don't — benefits are typically much higher. Also federal annuities are linked to inflation, whereas private pension benefits are frozen at retirement).

If the GOP plan passes the full House, it is probably dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But feds — who so far have survived in part because of political gridlock — aren't out of the woods by a long shot. Divided government has benefited feds — so far. But not on the retirement issue. Why: Because the Obama administration has also proposed feds pay a larger share of their retirement benefits. It would increase employee contributions by 1.2 percent, phased in starting next year.

So instead of gridlock, with the Senate ignoring or killing anything sent over by the House, the question isn't whether to make feds pay more for their annuities. Rather it is how much more will they be required to pay? That was the subject of our conversation Wednesday with Federal Times writers Stephen Losey and Sean Reilly, on our Your Turn radio show.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Pizza Hut has unveiled the latest "heart attack on a plate," Time reports: the Crown Crust Cheeseburger Pizza.

A plate of entwined open-faced cheeseburgers provides the base of the pizza (and we're using the term loosely), which is then topped with traditional burger fixin's, such as lettuce, tomatoes and onions. But sorry to disappoint all you gluttons out there — this pizza is only available at Pizza Hut's Middle East locations.


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