OMG: A Fed-Eating Congressional Turkey!

Friday - 8/26/2011, 2:01am EDT

Over the next several months, well before our annual Thanksgiving Day self-stuffing ceremony, federal workers, postal employees, retirees and their survivors are going to be fed a steady diet of OMG-style bad news. None of it will be end-of-the-world stuff. But...

Congress and the White House are working on savings and permanent spending cuts that could reduce future retirement benefits, take a substantial bite out of already frozen salaries and make government much less attractive for future hires.

While none of the outcomes is certain, it is also important to understand this not part of a ploy by starved-for-members unions/associations, or dreamed up by bored or frisky media types.

Most of the recommended changes will come from a laundry list being worked out by the bipartisan congressional super committee. Its job in part is to complete action on some of the proposals that came out of the all-star Simpson-Bowles commission created by the White House. Congress at the time took one look at some of its proposed tough suggestions and decided instead to go on vacation. Again.

But time is running out and many members are wrestling with the fact that they are going to have to run for reelection next fall based on a not-ready-for-prime time record. Even after political gerrymandering (to determine which people politicians will allow to vote for them) turnover next time could be greater than the mid-term upheaval of 2010. That is with more people, and more angry and disillusioned people, voting.

To give the impression that Washington has things well in hand, the super committee is expected to propose some tough calls. With Congress prepared to vote them up or down in early December. Most of the proposed changes, insiders say, will NOT deal with or be aimed at federal workers. But some undoubtedly will.

The number one candidate, because of its future savings, may be a plan to force federal workers — under both the old CSRS and the newer FERS retirement systems to shoulder more of the burden of paying for their retirement. Insiders think it will be based on a proposal from the Simpson-Bowles Commission that was also considered by the Blair House group headed by Vice President Joe Biden.

Under that plan — and the numbers and timetable are subject to change — current FERS employees, who now contribute 0.8 percent of their salary to the civil service retirement fund (as well as paying Social Security taxes) would see that increased 0.5 percent each year, until they are paying around 2.3 percent for their FERS retirement. Workers hired in future under the FERS system might be forced to pay a total of 5.5 to 6 percent toward retirement. For CSRS employees there has been consideration of raising their contributions .5 percent each year for the next three years. If that were approved they would wind up paying about 8.5 percent of salary toward their retirement.

On Wednesday, Federal Times reporters Steve Losey and Sean Reillywere guests on our Your Turn radio show. They went into great detail about what Congress may and can do to feds as part of the super committee deliberations. All of the Your Turn shows are archived on federalnewsradio.com. To listen to the most recent one, click here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

n 1981, the USDA attempted to reclassify ketchup and relish as vegetables to save a potential $1 billion in the school lunch program, according to the National Archives wiki project "Our Archives." However, the proposal never came to be after protests in the Senate.


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