Election-year politics, pay raises & health plans

Wednesday - 4/2/2014, 2:00am EDT

If you get a pay raise in 2015, will it be a repeat of the OMG 1 percent hike you got in January, or the 3.3 percent raise proposed by a band of congressional Democrats?

While the rest of the country settles in to see how the Affordable Care Act is working, will federal and postal employees continue to be unaffected by Obamacare? Could an angry, dysfunctional Congress eliminate the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), forcing feds, retirees and survivors into the new health exchange pools?

First, pay ...

Some long-time fed-watchers think the 3.3 percent raise is unlikely, in part because this is an election year. President Barack Obama had budgeted for a repeat of the 1 percent raise next year.

But the three primary cosponsors of the 3.3 percent raise depend heavily on the federal employee vote. About 14 percent of the federal civilian population works, lives and (importantly this year) votes in D.C. or surrounding congressional districts in Maryland and Virginia. That includes Reps. Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran in Virginia and Elijah Cummings in Maryland. Moran is in what is considered a "safe" Democratic district. Cummings seems solid with his Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County constituents. But Connolly's district was previously represented by a popular Republican. This year, both political parties are taking no chances. Democrats want to hang on to the Senate. Republicans seem likely to keep the House and maybe make in-roads in the Senate.

Members of the federal-military family represent a power bloc in many states — New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado and Oklahoma — plus more. They are also "the" vote in the Raleigh- Durham-Carey area, in Huntsville, Ala., and Ogden, Utah, among other congressional districts.

Although the Obama administration penciled in another 1 percent raise, it is unlikely to fight the 3.3 percent figure pushed by key Democrats. Last year, the White House endorsed and proposed a plan (the so-called chained CPI) that would have reduced future cost-of-living adjustments for federal, military and Social Security retirees. This year, because of the election, the White House dropped the chained CPI plan from its budget — although some suspect it will be back in favor next year.

Health benefits is another area of concern for some groups that represent federal workers, supervisors, managers, executive and retirees. For now it's a tiny black cloud on the horizon. But it's there ...

The issue of future health care for federal and postal workers and retirees is less pressing, but no less important. The FEHBP is considered one of, if not the, best employer-sponsored programs in the nation. The employer — Uncle Sam — pays just over 70 percent of the total premium and workers and retirees can choose from a variety of plans that can't deny or discriminate because of age or health. Retirees pay the same premiums and get the same premiums as young, healthy workers.

The FEHBP was long considered politically untouchable because members of Congress, their families and House and Senate staffers were part of the program. As long as feds and politicals were in the same pool, all was well. But ...

Congress left the FEHBP this year. So did many very unhappy congressional staffers. Before they agreed to go in the D.C. exchange it was decided (surprise?) that even though they were leaving the FEHBP, they would continue to get the 70 percent-plus premium subsidy they enjoyed before. Now that they are outside looking in, it is possible that die-hards, who think feds should be treated like others when it comes to health care, could try again. The Simpson-Bowles group appointed by the White House favors something like it. When/if it happens, the blueprint could look something like this.

The political protection feds once enjoyed is gone. Congress no longer has any skin in the FEHBP game. That could trigger a serious drive in Congress to put everybody in the new ACA.

We'll talk about what's going on on Capitol Hill on today's Your Turn radio program. Jessica Klement, legislative director of NARFE, will give us an update on pay, pensions, the health program and the status of bills to eliminate the windfall and offset penalties on the Social Security benefits of CSRS workers and retirees. We'll also have a what's next-for-feds talk with Federal Times writers Andy Medici and Nicole Blake Johnson.

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

Compiled by Jack Moore

Most pistachio shells used to be dyed red to disguise blemishes left over from the methods used to harvest them. Up until the about the 1970s, most pistachios were imported from the Middle East. The practice of dying pistachio shells has mostly "dyed out" since about 98 percent of pistachios sold in the U.S. are now grown and harvested in California.

(Source: Today I Found Out)


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