The end is near ... again

Thursday - 4/3/2014, 2:00am EDT

Is the new (as in latest) House Republican budget plan causing you to lose sleep? Are you increasingly nervous in the civil service? Worried that you will be paying more and getting less in 2015?

If you are feeling queasy, take this advice from a long-time (as in long-suffering) IRS worker:

He suggests you and yours should carve out some quality time. Set aside several free hours on a Friday or Saturday evening. Do it soon. Shut off the phone. Stock up on your favorite comfort food and beverages. Then rent, stream or buy a copy of Casablanca, the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman classic that many think is the second best American movie ever. Period.

The 1942 film is set during World War II, in French-controlled Morocco when France was, in turn, controlled by Nazi Germany. One of the more charming characters is the corrupt, cynical but lovable chief of police, played by Claude Raines. At one point a crime has been committed. To keep his German overseers at bay, the crafty French chief tells his men to "round up the usual suspects." Clearly he had spent time in political Washington, where rounding-up-the-usual-suspects is the first rule of political survival.

Fast forward to now...

The budget blueprint, presented to the House Tuesday by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is as dramatic, sweeping and visionary as a book-sized budget document can be. And it rounds up the usual suspects. If all points were approved, it says it would save $5 trillion over the next 10 years (the 10-year time-frame is critical).

Some of the proposed cuts would come at the expense of government employees. That's the part that caught many feds' attention. For good reason. But people should be aware these are not new proposals. And this is an election year. Both proposed changes dealing with federal retirement have been kicked around for decades. Whether presented by Republicans or Democrats, the President or Congress, each is designed to get maximum publicity, and to get the most political mileage while giving a future Congress or President nearly a decade to undo them for fiscal or political reasons.

The Obama administration and House Republicans have both endorsed the idea that federal workers should kick in more toward their retirement. Currently, workers under the FERS retirement system (which covers most feds) hired before 2013 contribute 0.8 percent of their pay toward their civil service retirement. Those hired in 2013 pay in 3.1 percent and those hired this year must contribute 4.4 percent to the FERS program.

Under the Ryan proposal, future feds would have to contribute 6.35 percent of pay to the FERS retirement system. That's in addition to paying into Social Security.

More troublesome to many current workers is the Social Security proposal in the Ryan plan. It was endorsed earlier by the Simpson-Bowles commission set up by the Obama administration. That revived proposal would eliminate "gap" payments FERS employees currently get if they retire before age 62, when they can get Social Security. The Social Security supplement, worth several thousand dollars a year in some cases, represents the Social Security payments the workers would have gotten if they had waited until age 62 to retire. While it is critical to many working and retired feds, critics say it is a benefit that encourages federal employees to retire early at a time when many non-federal workers (who lack defined-benefit pension plans) must delay their retirements.

The 99-page budget plan titled The Path To Prosperity will give politicians, residents of think tanks, anti-bureaucrats and groups who represent or cover the federal family lots to talk about. But it is not chiseled in stone.

These same proposals, plus dozens more (like the high-three to the high-five) have been out there for the past 30 years. Most are still out there.

Example? This official letter from headquarters to Air Force civilians. It says that soon:

  • There will be a COLA freeze for federal retirees and a 5 percent pay cut for workers.

  • That the age for early retirement will be changed from 55 to 65.

  • Future annuities will be based on the employees' highest 5-year salary (instead of the current high-3 formula), and

  • Over the next two years the retirement contribution rate for CSRS employees will be raised from 7 to 9 percent.

  • Workers were told to stand by and that they would be informed as soon as the changes were made.
Scary stuff, right? Except...

The official warning letter is dated 28 January 1985!


Compiled by Jack Moore

Scientists now have a definitive reason for why zebras have stripes: to avoid biting flies. Flies, which are constantly on the lookout for patches of water to mate and lay their eggs, are able to detect them by the horizontally polarized light they reflect. But zebras' stripes are vertical and reflect polarized light differently.

(Source: Discover Magazine)


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