Watch out: Well-meaning, VIP zombies are stalking feds

Thursday - 5/9/2013, 2:00am EDT

Federal workers — and most of the rest of us — survived the fiscal cliff, despite dire warnings of gloom and doom. We made it past one debt ceiling crisis intact (with another looming). Then we all got sequestered, but the horrors outlined by the White House (and hoped for by some House GOP members) haven't happened. Yet.

It is early May, and most federal workers have yet to have their first furlough day. Some agencies have pushed back the start date for furloughs; some have reduced the number by half.

Professional hand-wringers are finding it harder to find a credible hand to wring.

Feds are still in a tunnel, and about to find out if that light they see is sunshine and safety or a big train moving toward them.

However sequestration and furloughs play out, government workers could be in for even harder times — as in serious, lifetime cuts — that would make a few furlough days look like a nice vacation.

Two words: Simpson-Bowles.

To a lot of people, politicians of both parties, economists and many taxpayers, former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), and Erskine Bowles, former head of the Small Business Administration and a long time White House official during the Clinton administration, are as good as they get. They are as close to being political saints as secular Washington allows. President Obama asked them to form a bipartisan commission and to come up with BRAC-like recommendations for cutting government programs and costs. They did, but Congress didn't adopt any of them — including those that would directly impact federal and postal workers, and retirees. President Obama did implement one of their recommendations: The federal pay freeze. They suggested three years, he made it two years. Congress added the third year (2013) later.

To many federal workers — and especially to leaders of unions, management groups and retirees — Simpson-Bowles, personable as they can be, are zombies that want to slice and dice your benefits package — from paycheck and pension to changing your federal health plan options.

Knowing the clout and the following Simpson-Bowles have, many people predicted they would not, like most commissions, be forgotten and fade away. They also predicted that some of their ideas would resurface and be recycled either by Democrats, Republicans or both. They were correct.

Now the Simpson-Bowles group has reinvented itself as the Moment of Truth Project. Last month it issued a report: "A Bipartisan Path Forward To Securing America's Future."

President Obama has endorsed one of their recommendations: That the government switch inflation-measuring yardsticks to produce smaller cost-of-living adjustments in the future. Going to the so-called chained CPI would produce a more accurate picture of inflation and save the taxpayers billions of dollars in future Civil Service and Social Security benefit payments.

He also likes, and budgeted for, another change that would force federal workers to contribute more to their pension benefits. His proposal is less drastic than one OK'd by House Republicans but the fact of life is that both sides say federal workers need to kick in more.

Threats to reducing federal benefits come and go. Mostly go. Changing the retirement computation formula from the highest three-year average salary to a high-five system has been kicking around for years. And nothing has happened.

But the Simpson-Bowles blueprint is probably here to stay at least until some of its recommendations become law. This, as they say, is not a drill!


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

The children's song classic "Do Your Ears Hang Low," contains a little-known second verse inquiring whether your ears "hang high."

Do your ears hang high?
Do they reach up to the sky?
Do they droop when they are wet?
Do they stiffen when they're dry?
Can you semaphore your neighbour with a minimum of labour?
Do your ears hang high?

(Source: Mental Floss)


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