The thumb of all fears

Monday - 1/30/2012, 2:00am EST

Congress may be about to deal you a career-crunching hand you won't like.

Many cost-cutting (at your expense) plans were floated last year — by Presidential panels and blue ribbon groups, as part of a House budget plan and, finally, the congressional supercommittee that, in the end, failed to launch. Feds sweated all year. But it looks like crunch time is coming on or about Feb. 29. Feds, and retirees, have a lot at stake. But first, this brief setup:

When they were little kids, my two sons and two daughters, had a favorite multiple-choice project to pass the time. And it amused them. At my expense.

When driving to the beach, or somewhere, they would play what I called the "horrible-options-game." That is, they gave me a series of "choices", and tell me I had to pick one. As I recall there were often five horrible or disgusting options. One for each kid, plus a wild card: For example, would I rather:

  • Be tossed in a tank with a 20-foot Nile River crocodile

  • Slide down a razor-sharp bannister into a vat of alcohol

  • Walk a tight-rope over Niagara Falls, blindfolded

  • Be dropped in a nest of baby pterodactyls who haven't eaten in a week.

  • Run barefoot around the rim of Mt. Vesuvius when it was erupting
Those were my choices.

When I said none of the above, they said I had to make a pick, please, or it would ruin their childhood. That it was only a game. "Pick one, please!"

I always caved, picking one finger of the horrid hand they dealt me.

I knew I would be wrong. And I was always right.

Whatever choice I made, they would howl in mock disgust. "Gross, disgusting" — how could I pick that option?

Now, after years of therapy (theirs and mine), their children have adapted the you-can't-win game to the 21st century. Revenge can be a long time coming, but it is sweet when it happens.

With that intro, I would like to ask you to name your own poison.

A joint House-Senate committee, as you know, is looking at a variety of ways to save money , to continue the payroll tax cut and fund extended unemployment benefits. Some, but not all, of the potential savings/cuts are likely to come out of your hide.

We don't know which proposals they are considering. We probably don't know all of the possible proposals. And we don't know which, if any, they will recommend to the full Congress. But we know some of them, so here's the deal. Here's a list of what may be on the joint committee's shopping list. Given the choices, assuming at least one of them will be made, which would you pick? Think of it as if you were dealt a five-finger hand, and you must pick the least horrible (to you) option. Will it be:

  • An extension of the current two-year pay freeze by another year, or two or even three more years.

  • Basing future retirement benefits on your highest five-year average salary.

  • Adopting a revised formula that would reduce (by an estimated 0.4 percent each year) future cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.

    Eliminate the cash supplement for FERS employees who voluntarily retire before age 62.

  • Set up a voucher system to purchase health insurance, or phase in a program that would require feds and retirees to pay a much larger share of their health premiums.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

It's an old expression that no two snowflakes are alike. During a snowstorm in January 1885, Wilson Bentley became the first person to photograph a single snowflake. He captured the image under a microscope using a bellows camera, Discovery reports.


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