Feds as a Political Force

Wednesday - 9/30/2009, 4:00am EDT

When it comes to touchy, active or energized blocs of voters, politicians beyond the beltway rarely think about feds. Politically they are the ultimate Invisible Man/Woman.

But maybe not for long.

Mostly, thanks to political restraints on the feds, members of the federal family get less attention than professional "activists" or even advocates of a return to the gold standard. That's usually true, but...

Ignoring feds during the current health care reform debate could be a big mistake for several members of the Senate Finance Committee who represent more than a million active and retired feds, all of whom are old enough to vote.

There are approximately 1,445,000 G-men and G-women in the 20-plus states represented on the committee. And that's a low-ball figure. The number is actually much higher in each state because it doesn't include more than half a million heavily-unionized postal workers. They reside and vote in Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, West Virginia, Utah, Maine, Kansas and other states with Senators on the SFC.

The committee is considering a slew of changes. Some are serious, some silly, many politically motivated in the drive to reform the nation's health care system. Among them are a couple of plans that have ticked off or terrified many active and retired federal government workers.

Changes that would:

  • Eliminate the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and put participants in "health exchanges" to be established. Opponents say this would eliminate the gold-standard health program for the government's own (including members of Congress and their staffs) for what many fear would be much less generous options.

  • Open up the FEHBP to uninsured (and in some cases currently uninsurable) nonfederal workers and retirees. The National Active and Retired Federal Employees has warned that this could alter the "risk pool" in the FEHBP and could result in much higher premiums in a short time.

So let's look at the numbers: There are 27,000 feds in Iowa, the home state of Sen. Charles Grassley (R) who has proposed limiting or eliminating the FEHBP. Also there are about 49,000 feds in Oregon which is the home base of Sen. Ron Wyden (D) who would open up the FEHBP to outsiders.

Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has more than 20,000 fed voters in his low-population state. Others states represented in the committee include Texas (276,000 feds), Florida, (237,000), New Jersey (82,000) and 85,000 in Arizona. Even low-population states like New Mexico have a large federal presence (48,400). Delaware and North Dakota, two small population states, each have about 12,000 feds who are represented on the committee. Wyoming has 37,200 feds, Arkansas 36,000, and Massachusetts and Michigan have 65,300 and 66,300 respectively.

(Editor's Note: Late last night, long after Mr. Causey's deadline for this column, the SFC voted down the proposed "public option". For more on that from the Associated Press, click here. And OPM has released some preliminary figures for premium increases for those in the FEHBP. For more on that from FederalNewsRadio's Max Cacas, click here. sk)

Other than that, how's it going? Hear an update on today's Your Turn with Mike Causey radio show. We talked with Daniel Adcock, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees.

He talks about a couple of different amendments that, if passed, could really affect FEHBP enrollees.

It's on your computer (www.federalnewsradio.com) or in the D.C., area at WFED 1500 AM. Listen if you can, call in if you like. That's 10 a.m. EDT.

Ultimate Bag Man

He goes around the country, sometimes with bags of cash for feds in need. He operates a program that provides scholarships and loans to members of the federal family and his group, with a lot of help from corporations and people like you, has provided "full ride" college scholarships to children of feds killed in the Oklahoma City bombings and the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. Listen to our Your Turn radio show to find out the identity of this mystery man who uses the initials FEEA (when he isn't using his real name: Steve Bauer). Again the show is 10 a.m. EDT.

Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

Something to remember next time you're using subliminal messaging: it works best if it "leaves the viewer in a state of fear."

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com