The lull before the lull

When it comes timeouts, few organizations in America can touch Congress.

The lame duck Congress returns to work today. It is also scheduled to be in session Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It will take Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday off to recharge and then return to work on the Dec. 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Many people fear that the lame duck session — with more disgruntled, defeated or retiring members...

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When it comes timeouts, few organizations in America can touch Congress.

The lame duck Congress returns to work today. It is also scheduled to be in session Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It will take Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday off to recharge and then return to work on the Dec. 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Many people fear that the lame duck session — with more disgruntled, defeated or retiring members than ever — won’t get anything done. That it will be a continuation of partisan gridlock.

An equal number of people probably fear that the lame duck session will do something spiteful, stupid or expensive.

Millions of words have been said or written on what Congress might (or might not) do when the new session begins Jan. 6. Of course, nobody knows what will happen and, if the past is any guide, few of the direst predictions will come to pass. Groups representing feds, postal workers, managers, executives and retirees will be on guard, as usual. Most, regardless of their specific membership, will be keeping an eye on possible changes to the FERS, the largest federal retirement program. FERS covers nearly every federal employee hired since the mid-1980s. Only a couple hundred thousand still-working feds are under the old CSRS pension program.

For decades, the fear (and expectation) of CSRS workers was that they would be forcibly put into the FERS plan. That their CSRS benefits would be diluted and their defined benefit plan trimmed dramatically. It never happened, but it was a major concern, for years.

Things have changed dramatically on the federal retirement front. After years of improvements from Congress and the White House, public pensions became a major political issue. Can you say City of Detroit? Its pension plan was in such bad shape that current retirees agreed to a 4.5 percent pension CUT and elimination of inflation-adjustments in future.

Uncle Sam isn’t Detroit. At least not yet! But a growing number of politicians — some seeking better ways to do things, some bureaucrat- haters — are looking at the government retirement program as the place to make savings. The Obama administration endorsed the idea of higher contribution rates from ALL employees. Congress boosted that percentage for workers hired in 2013, and again for those hired in 2014. That will reduce retirement costs to the taxpayers, but the savings won’t show up for a long time.

The way to save money, Detroit style, would be to tackle current retirees under the CSRS and FERS programs. The most likely way to do it is to change the yardstick used to calculate the rate of inflation, most notably, the Chained CPI.

“Neither the Chained CPI nor the current CPI-W accurately reflects changes in consumer prices experienced by the seniors who rely on the measures to adjust their incomes appropriately,” said Richard Thissen, national president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “Notably, while health care accounts for about 12 percent of spending for those 62 or older, it accounts for only 5 percent of spending for the general population. Health care costs are rising faster than other goods — this year, health care inflation was 3.2 percent for federal employees and retirees while the CPI-W indicated the average price of consumer goods increased 1.7 percent.

“The bottom line is that the Chained CPI is not a more accurate measure of inflation for our nations’ seniors, veterans, disabled and most vulnerable.”

NEARLY USELESS FACTOID:

By Michael O’Connell

Composed in 1885 by T.J. Hurley, Boston College’s “For Boston” has the distinction of being the oldest college fight song in the United States.

Source: Wikipedia


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