Lame Ducks & Your Pay Raise

What does a lame duck Congress have to do with your 2010 white collar federal pay raise?

Maybe plenty, but first what’s a lame duck?

For purposes of this discussion, a lame duck is a member of the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate who either didn’t get reelected, or didn’t run for another term. But who continues to vote for awhile.

Congressional lame ducks are usually rare birds. In many, if not most, congressional elections the incumbent gets reelected. Lame-duckery is usually self-inflicted rather than voter-driven. As a result most lame duck sessions of Congress are, well, lame. Not much happens. But the election of 2010 could be different.


Congressional districts have been carved up, as in gerrymandered, by both political parties to ensure that in some places the winner is nearly always going to be a Democrat or Republican. No matter who is running and what the issues are.

But if the pollsters and pundits are correct (and sometimes they are) the upcoming November election is going to be tough for incumbents in general and Democratic incumbents in particular. If that happens, if lots of incumbents lose, post-election Washington will be crawling with sore-tailed lame ducks and congressional staffers who will be seeking other jobs.

Although rejected by the voters, the lame ducks will not be dead (as in non-voting) legislators until the end of the year. In other words, Congress will have time to pass, or reject, proposals with a potentially large number of lame ducks voting.

In a situation like this, the first mid-term test for a new administration, anything can happen. And with tough economic times, people who have lost jobs, homes or half the value of their 401(k) plans are not happy. They are looking for a fix and, in many cases, would like the government to feel a little of their pain.

Federal-military-Social Security retirees did not get a cost of living adjustment in 2010, and they will not get one in 2011 either.

Many people in the private sector who still have jobs are making 5 to 25 percent less than they did before they were forced (or in some cases voted) to take pay cuts rather than lose their jobs.

While all this is going on the federal government is growing. It is expanding to handle new programs and power over various major segments of the economy: Banks and health care among them.

The administration also intends to reverse and correct policies begun in the Clinton administration (and continued with vigor under President Bush) to outsource federal jobs. This administration is seeking out jobs that are “inherently governmental” which are being performed by private contractors or sub-contractors. Those jobs, once identified, are to be returned to the federal fold.

So what about the 2011 federal pay raise?

Bill Bransford and Jessica Klement, two people who ought to know, say the proposed 1.4 percent white collar federal pay raise (or any pay raise) is not a sure thing. He’s general counsel of the Senior Executives Association. She’s top lobbyist for the Federal Managers Association. Last week the three of us hosted a legislative update session at the FDR Conference in Atlanta. One of the questions was about the pay raise the President has proposed for January.

Both agreed that the pay raise could be an issue when Congress returns the second week in September, or when the lame duck Congress returns after the elections. Klement noted that three earlier attempts to freeze pay failed in Congress either by a narrow margin, or for procedural reasons.

So the pay raise is still on schedule. But anything could happen this year. Stay tuned…

Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

Kool-Aid was invented in 1927 by Edwin Perkins. He later married his childhood sweetheart, Kitty Shoemaker, who had developed her own famous product: Jell-O.

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