As often happens in August, the good news and the bad news are the same: Congress is out of town, and the many White House operations decamped to Martha’s Vineyard last week.
Congress, which has pushed the three-day workweek to new horizons in 2014, is long gone. And it won’t be back until a week after Labor Day. At that point, it will have a total of 12 working days before departing, again, to campaign. Then it’s back here (briefly) after the November elections.
The bad news is that if Congress and the White House learned to peacefully coexist, there are a number of items, hot spots and problems they could fix either by legalizing them, making them illegal or throwing money at or withholding funds from various projects, problems and people.
The good news, same as the bad, is because our elected officials can’t/won’t blame (insert name of your personal political devils here) and the fact that they only have a short time to do anything, including nothing, there isn’t much harm they can do.
House Republicans have taken the lead in going after federal workers and their benefits package. But both sides have joined in. It was the White House that first proposed sequestration and a two-year pay freeze, which Congress later extended to three years. Both the GOP-run House and the White House endorsed plans to make federal workers contribute more pay toward their pensions. And both have proposed reducing future cost-of-living adjustments for federal-military and Social Security retirees. It would be done by measuring inflation using the so-called “chained CPI” (Consumer Price Index).
Backers say using the chained CPI system would more accurately reflect inflation and the way people respond to it. If prices for one item go up, people switch to lower priced goods. The example is steak-to-hamburger-to-chicken. The counter argument is that dog food, not chicken, is the last stop for hard-pressed retirees.
Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, estimates changing the way retiree COLAs are calculated would reduce future increases for the average CSRS retiree ($32,000) by $50,000 over the next 25 years.
Per diem rates to go unchanged in fiscal 2015 The General Services Administration announced Friday the standard per diem rate for federal travel will remain the same. The notice goes into effect Oct. 1. GSA had also frozen per diem rates in 2013, but the agency did increase them in 2014. GSA also outlined two new non-standard areas in Arizona and Texas.