Congress and you what could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday - 2/8/2012, 2:00am EST

I had a friend in high school who, when faced with adversity, would always say: "They can kill me but they can't eat me!" Then somebody clued him in on the practice of cannibalism. He was never the same. A light seemed to go out of his eyes!

Fast forward to now ...

A fed friend, who boxed in college and the Army, said that, of late, he feels like a punchdrunk pug, rather than an athlete. He feels like he's fighting two (at least) opponents and the referee too. All at the same time.

He blames his transformation, from caring but relatively carefree civil servant to punching bag, on election-year politics.

Fortunately for him and other feds and retirees, the politicians who are out to get them have, because of blind partisanship on both sides, proven to be 100 percent inept. So far. Despite a half dozen serious attempts last year — by Presidential panels, blue-ribbon task forces and both partisan and bipartisan congressional efforts — none of the reforms/horrors proposed for feds were approved.

Those money saving ideas included a White House proposal last September to increase employee contributions to both the CSRS and FERS annuity benefit package and elimination of the FERS annuity supplement for workers hired starting next year. Since then, legislation has been introduced that would increase employee contributions to both plans by 1.5 percent, phased in over 3 years. The FERS annuity — a special payment to employees who retire early before becoming eligible for Social Security — would be eliminated except for workers (air traffic controllers, LEOs and the like) who are forced to retire early. Feds hired after this year would have to pay even more for their pension benefits (4 percent of their salaries) and they would be based on the employees highest five-year average salary.

There are dozens of other money-saving proposals out there, and a bipartisan House-Senate conference committee is looking at even more changes. They include such options as a less generous formula to determine retiree cost-of-living adjustments and a steady annual increase in the employee/retirees share of health premiums. The first could permanently reduce future retiree COLAs as much as 0.4 percent a year, while the premium shift could mean that workers and retirees (who now pay about 30 percent of their total health premium tab) could wind up paying 40 percent or more. Its recommendations, if they are made, would be voted up-or-down (no amendments) by Congress.

Extending the current two-year federal pay freeze is considered all but a done deal. The question is whether it will be for another one, two or even three years.

Members of Congress have embraced the pay freeze for you (and themselves) in this election year. The fact that so many of them are already millionaires, and spend more than they make to keep their jobs, means this is not much of a sacrifice for the typical pol.

Last week, GOP leaders in the Senate introduced a proposal that would save the Pentagon from what they say are draconian across-the-board cuts. Under that plan, federal pay would remain frozen through 2014 and agencies would slim down by 5 percent by replacing only two of every three people who quit, retired or died.

The latest threat, from the joint congressional committee, is due to be announced by Feb. 29. Some people fear the worst because this is an election year. Others believe that because it is an election year Congress will punt, again, and put any major changes off until after the election.

What next?

At 10 a.m. today expert Capitol Hill watcher Jacque Simon will talk about the various changes being kicked around, and what they would mean to current, former and future federal workers. She's director of public policy for the American Federation of Government Employees and will be our guest on the Your Turn radio show. You can listen on your computer or in the D.C. area at 1500 AM.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

While you were busy waiting to see if Punxsutawney Phil would see his shadow, two of three peacocks who live on the grounds of the Cathedral Chuch of St. John the Divine in New York "failed to display their plumage, auguring an extended winter," according to Harper's Weekly Review. The birds' names: Jim, Phil and Harry.


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