Feds: Is that a dust cloud or the Mongol horde?

Thursday - 3/22/2012, 2:00am EDT

Ever wonder how 13th-century suburbanites felt when they got word that Genghis Khan and his band were headed their way? If so ...

Visit almost any federal office in almost any city after people have digested the latest news bulletin about the big plans congressional Republicans have to revamp the federal pay and benefits package. Regardless of your politics and feelings about spending and the deficit, many feds are scared spitless over some of the plans to cut costs.

There are so many whack-a-fed options out there that it is literally hard to keep track of them. Various news organizations (including Federal News Radio) have developed tracker websites so that folks who like to be in the know, or who get high from personal terror, can see the latest threat to their pay, retirement and health insurance benefits.

Federal pay has already been frozen for two years — on White House orders. Now House Republicans are saying it is such a great idea, the freeze should be extended another year. Or two. Or three, in one plan.

Retirement benefits would be reduced and become more costly for future feds in one formal plan. In another, still in the works, higher contributions and a less generous benefit formula would save even more money by including current federal and postal workers too.

The latest plan, pushed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), calls the bluff of members of Congress, who have said (hoping it will never happen) that all Americans should have the same health insurance coverage for life as members of Congress. That would be the FEHBP which is the same health plan you have.

Although many feds complain that premiums are too high and benefits not good enough, most experts say the FEHBP is the best health plan in the nation. By a long shot. Healthy young workers and very ill retirees (and their survivors) in the same plans, pay the same premiums. There are many choices and nobody can be refused coverage because of age, health, preexisting medical conditions or lifestyle. Coverage is for life and even as premiums go up, the government pays the lion's share of the premiums (about 70 percent for most workers and retirees). The U.S. Postal Service pays a much larger share of the premiums for workers, which is one reason it is looking to setup its own plan outside the FEHBP.

In the event that all Americans were brought into the FEHBP program — which now covers only about 8 million members of the federal family — one of the big questions is how much would they (and you) pay? Would the government pay 70 percent (or more) of their premiums, as it does for you? Nobody knows for sure, but it is unlikely your share of the premiums would decrease.

Federal and postal unions are, understandably, flipping out at the (mostly) GOP proposals to trim the people costs of the government. Unfortunately (and understandably), they have few friends in Congress who aren't Democrats. This is true, in large part, because union leaders for the past 40 years have consistently endorsed Democratic presidential candidates and given most of their endorsements and PAC funds to Democrats.

The good news for feds is that most of the pending proposals — high three to high five, higher pension contributions, etc.— have been introduced before. And never happened. Long-time feds have been through most of this before.

The bad news is that there is a first time for everything. This is the first election since the 2010 event that swept away a lot of stunned and smug long-time incumbents. The political divide is so deep and angry (pick your own villains), it is hard to imagine a pre-election compromise that won't beat up feds to some extent.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Cornell University's corpse plant bloomed this week, an event not expected to happen again for another 30 years. Why the name? The plant, native to the Sumatra rain forest, smells of rotting flesh when in full bloom, the Chicago Tribune reports.


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