Wanna be president? Stop beating up bureaucrats

It’s probably safe to assume that most members of Congress would like to be president. Or at least have thought about it. Despite their modest “aw shucks” public face, there may be an inner voice that says they’d be great living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It’s also probably true that most of the 435 members of the House of Representatives would love to upgrade their two-year jobs for a six-year stint in the higher profile, 100-member elite club known as the U.S. Senate.

While theoretically equal, members of the Senate are in fact the Hollywood stars. Members of the House are key grips and best boys. Assistant directors at most. House members frequently run for the Senate. Senators rarely seek a House seat. There’s gotta be a reason.

When trying to move from the House to the Senate, many politicians figure out — or are told — that they must broaden their base, often modify their positions to appeal to people statewide, not just in the highly-gerrymandered district they represent. Their congressional district may equate federal bureaucrats with overpaid zombies. But if and when they decide to run for the Senate, they may learn that major portions of their state are chock-full of federal workers and retirees. And their families, and local merchants and businesses that depend on the federal payroll to stay in business. Maybe that lesson is being learned, which if true, is good for feds. And just in time too. Take the state of Virginia. Please …

Virginia is an example of a jurisdiction where Uncle Sam is a very, very big deal politically and economically. Geographically, it is big for an east-of-the-Mississippi state. And more prosperous than most. It has some of the best schools in the nation. Some of the most affluent ZIP codes, especially in the fast-growing counties that make up the Washington, D.C. metro area. And, along with the Tidewater area, it is home to one of the largest concentrations of federal workers — and retirees — in the nation. For a long time, the Old Dominion was a solidly Democratic blue state. Then it turned Republican red for a while. Now it is purple-leaning-blue again. Although Virginia has isolated pockets of poverty, much of the state — thanks to the federal dollars going to workers and, even more so, contractors — is doing very well.

Most Virginia Republicans learned early on that feds are their friends. And must-have voters. Two of the most effective pro-fed workers in Congress, ever, were Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.). They went against the Republican party leadership — and the White House under George W. Bush  when federal workers were targeted by unfavorable legislation or for smaller-than-promised pay raises. An aide to one of the then-congressmen said that while they got financial support and help from some unions representing federal workers, they were told not to acknowledge the help. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) played a similar role in helping his federal constituents over the national party goals when the Clinton administration proposed zero or microscopic pay raises for feds.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, feds were often hurt (or at least not helped) by politicians who would buck “their” president to protect his/her constituents. While most members of the Virginia delegation strongly back federal workers (some more openly than others), one — from a rural part of the state — did join two other House members in proposing to revive the so-called Holman Rule. That 1870s rule would permit individual members of Congress to eliminate individual or groups of federal workers by abolishing their jobs.  While it isn’t going anywhere, it did unnerve some workers, especially those in agencies targeted by the Trump administration.

But things could be changing. A group of 18 Democratic senators — led by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va. — and 10 House Republicans have written a letter urging Congress not to gut the federal retirement program by reducing COLAs for CSRS retirees and eliminating them for FERS workers and retirees, while forcing FERS workers to pay 6 percent more for their pensions and to eliminate the “gap” payments now available to workers who retire before they are eligible for Social Security.

Last week, the National Treasury Employees Union applauded Democrats and Republicans who have come out against the retirement cuts. NTEU President Tony Reardon reminded other politicians that the vast majority of federal workers live beyond the Capital Beltway and spend and vote in every state and community.

Earlier, American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox publicly praised the bipartisan opposition to the proposed changes in the CSRS and FERS retirement plans.

Federal and postal unions at the national level almost always endorse Democratic presidential candidates. The fact that the politically powerful NTEU and AFGE both acknowledged the bipartisan coalition could help feds escape the pension cuts and maybe persuade more House and Senate Republicans to support the folks who vote for (or against) them, rather than their leaders in the House, Senate and White House.

If enough people on both sides decide to play nice (as in civilly and politically smart) it’s likely to benefit beleaguered civil servants. That, plus the natural inertia of Congress, could save the retirement system. At least for the time being.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

Inertia is the name of an Australian record label and distributor.

Source: Wikipedia

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