Is the honeymoon over?

Friday - 9/30/2011, 2:00am EDT


Although most federal-postal unions supported him in the 2008 election, they're now in the somewhat awkward position of asking Congress to protect them from the president. Because...

The unions were stunned when the White House slapped a two-year freeze on federal pay. That's scored as a $60 million savings to the Treasury (and loss to federal workers) over a 10-year period.

They got another jolt this month when the White House proposed what amounts to a permanent 1.2 percent reduction in take-home pay. The proposal, part of the White House "Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction," would require federal and postal workers to contribute more toward their retirement. Currently the majority of feds, under the FERS retirement plan, pay .8 percent toward their civil service retirement benefit. They also contribute to Social Security. Workers under the old CSRS retirement plan put 7 percent of their pay into their retirement benefit and pay only the Medicare portion of Social Security.

Under the White House plan, FERS employees would eventually contribute 2 percent of their salary toward retirement and CSRS employees would pay a total of 8.2 percent into their retirement program. Contributions would go up .4 percent a year, starting in 2013 when the pay freeze is supposed to end.

The biggest surprise for the pro-fed groups was when the White House also proposed to eliminate a valuable, but little known, benefit called the FERS Social Security supplement. The supplement is paid to employees who retire before age 62 when they become eligible for Social Security. "We did not see that one coming," one union lobbyist said.

Eliminating the Social Security supplemental payment would be especially hard on workers — law enforcement officers, firefighters, air traffic controllers and others — who must, by law, retire earlier. For many of them, they would be retired as much as five years before their Social Security benefit would kick in.

All of the above has prompted the Federal-Postal Coalition (representing 30 unions and federal associations) to write the congressional supercommittee, asking it to block the White House plan to raise contributions and eliminate the supplement. The 12-member bipartisan supercommittee was created to come up with let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may proposals to slash federal spending and cut the deficit. Although Democrats have said they want entitlements left intact, and Republicans say no-new-taxes, members are pledged to come up with tough cuts. They are due to make their recommendations around Thanksgiving, and the House and Senate are pledged (although they have punted before) to vote up-or-down on the committee's recommendations.

The take-it-or-leave it super-commission approach has worked before (with the BRAC military base closings). But more often than not, Congress loses its nerve at the last minute and nothing ever happens. Failure to act would be a break for members of the federal family but would do nothing toward reducing the deficit.

But the Coalition is not taking any chances. It has written the super-committee saying that feds have already taken a big hit, with the two-year pay freeze, and can't afford and don't deserve what would amount to a lifetime reduction in take-home pay. For a list of coalition members and the text of its letter, click here.

The irony is that it is asking Congress to protect it from the person many openly supported. This happens a lot when a high-hopes candidate transitions into a hard-choices president.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

And your spouse thought your snoring was bad! A 21-year-old Topeka, Kan., man was certified in July by the Guinness Book of World Records, with the biggest tonsils (we, also, were unaware that was a category). The tonsils measured 2.1 inches and 1.9 inches. The owner of the award-winning tonsils said snoring and constant sore throats were a problem.


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