A year ago, federal workers were genuinely and rightly concerned that their retirement, health insurance and pay packages were on the chopping block. They were faced with the prospect of an extended pay freeze, smaller future retirement benefits, a reduction in take-home pay and smaller retirement benefits for future retirees. Some had their retirement papers in hand so they could get out while there was still time.
A year ago various groups, presidential commissions, congressional super- committees, and various bipartisan groups came up with proposed spending cuts that included programs that benefit federal and postal workers and retirees. Feds were rightly worried that their retirement package might be reduced, that they would have to pay a bigger share of their health premiums or their retirement costs and that future retirees would get smaller pensions.
Congress, despite its promises, didn’t act on any of them. Instead, it put in a Dr. Strange Love-like ticking time bomb. It was called Sequestration. Like mutually assured nuclear destruction, the politicians “knew” that the drastic, economy-wrecking cuts would never be implemented.
The purpose was simply to force the political opposition to give in. Nobody in their right mind (or so the thinking went) would force across-the-board, no- exceptions cuts in federal programs that keep people alive, safe and eating.
In the meantime, Congress continued its partisan squabbling (House Republicans vs. Senate Democrats) which resulted in no budgets being approved.
Yes, those were the good old days…
Now, we may or may not have an even bigger problem. Like will you have a job this time next year. Forget about benefits, concentrate on that paycheck. Why…
Congress — which is going on yet another vacation this week — has a few months to come up with a politically-acceptable debt reduction plan that will defuse the automatic sequestration process due to hit in early January.
Sequestration — depending on which prophet of doom you follow — could plunge the nation back into a deep recession, and wreak havoc on the Washington, D.C. area which has generally prospered in its Starbucks and Whole Foods bubble — thanks to the huge federal contractor community — while most of the rest of the country tightened its belt.
Sequestration means across-the-board cuts in all programs. No exceptions. Except for those that would inevitably be made and granted for things like the Army (we would keep it) and Social Security (your check would still be in the mail). But thousands of jobs would be lost, as government contracts were cancelled and tens of thousands of feds would be furloughed — if lucky — or fired if not so lucky.
Should you worry, and if so how much? On Monday, the Labor Department said there was no need for government contractors to send out layoff warning letters to employees. Those letters (required by state law) would in many cases arrive just days before the November election. On Tuesday, the Office of Management and Budget told federal agencies to come up with sequestration plans — which could include furloughs and layoffs — just in case. Confused? Welcome to the club.
How serious is the situation? Good question. Think about how worried (or not) you were this time last year, and what you were worried about: Switching the high 3 to the high 5 formula? It is good to pay attention. Staying informed is good. Worrying excessively about what election-year politicians may do is not so good.
So how are things today? NTEU President Colleen Kelley says the threats of an extended pay freeze, cuts in take home pay and higher health premiums are still out there. She was our guest yesterday on our Your Turn Radio show. To hear what she said click here.
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