Pray for political inertia

Wednesday - 5/9/2012, 2:00am EDT

For federal workers trying to follow what Congress is (and isn't) doing, there is both good news and, you guessed it, not so good news. In fact, really bad. Starting with a 5 percent cut in take-home pay, in addition to the pay freeze you have been enjoying.

Starting with the bad, of course, is the fact that the House will vote Thursday on a proposal that would require feds to pay more — considerably more — for their retirement benefits. Under the plan, the majority of federal-postal workers, who are under the Federal Employees Retirement System, would see their retirement contributions increase by 1.5 percent next year, another 0.5 percent in 2014 and then up 1 percent each year from 2015 to 2017. Contributions for CSRS employees, mostly people hired prior to 1983, and for CSRS offset employees, could also go up 5 percent until 2014 when they would be paying 12 percent of salary into the CSRS retirement system with each paycheck. For a breakdown on the proposed change, click here.

A House vote could come as early as Thursday.

Now for the good news.

It may not matter. Given relations between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-dominated House, it's surprising they even agree on the words to the National Anthem. If the House does something, the Senate automatically balks. If the Senate has a plan, the House sneers it into oblivion.

It is entirely possible that whatever the House approves this week, will be considered DOA by the Senate. But there is one area — the higher retirement contribution level — where they may be some agreement.

Most people have focused on the fact that the GOP budget plans call for a higher (5 percent total) contribution for CSRS and FERS employees. That has taken up most of their time, attention and energy. But...

The Obama administration believes that employee contributions to their defined benefit plan should go up too. Just not as much. It has proposed a phased-in increase that would eventually require feds/postal to pay an additional 1.2 percent into the retirement fund. While that is better than the proverbial poke in the eye, it is still an increase at a time when federal (nonpostal) pay has been frozen, and may continue in the deep freeze for another year, or two.

Bottom line: keep your powder dry (whatever that means) and pray that this especially angry and partisan Congress will continue to do what it does best. Which is not-much-to-nothing.

At 10 a.m. today on our Your Turn radio show Federal Times senior writer Stephen Losey will lead off and give us an up-to-the-minute status report of what's going on on Capitol Hill.

Long Term Care Insurance — Who needs it?

At what age should you consider buying a LTC policy? What does it cover? Doesn't it duplicate benefits offered by Medicare, Medicad and your federal health plan. What kind of a daily benefit is best. Which is better, the government-backed LTC group plan or a private self-only policy?

Today on our Your Turn radio show, Paul Forte and Mary Lou McGuiness, will answer the 10 questions you were afraid to (or didn't know you should) ask about LTC. They are with Long Term Care Partners which manages the federal program.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest and sheltered in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing until a tenuous agreement with the Chinese government was reached. The government, not quite known for its openness, decided to censor all coverage relating to Guangcheng's. Censors even went so far as to block references to "the Shawshank Redemption," on a popular social media site "over concerns that the film's plot parallels Chen's story," according to Harper's Weekly Review.


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