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Largest Federal Employee Union Leader Rejects Budget Deal Targeting Federal Pensions

AFGE rejects notion that there should be trade-off between federal programs and federal employees

WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. issued the following statement in response to the budget deal announced today by the Budget Conference Committee:

“Despite the extraordinarily hard work of several Congressional leaders, AFGE cannot support any budget deal that asks for more from federal employees. AFGE represents more than just the 670,000 federal and D.C government employees on the rolls today, but every other federal worker who will one day take the oath and be forced to live with this needless pension cut.

“AFGE rejects the notion that there should be a trade-off between funding the programs to which federal employees have devoted their lives, and their own livelihoods. Though the $6 billion in increased retirement contributions for new employees is less severe than the administration’s $20 billion proposal, it is still unacceptable.

“Newly hired federal employees already pay 3.1% of their salaries toward their defined benefit pension and 6.2% to Social Security. Forcing employees hired after 2013 to pay an additional 1.3% — for a total of 4.4% — toward their pension will make it all but impossible for them to fund their Thrift Savings Plan accounts.  The result will be a serious shortfall in their retirement income security, and a substantial lowering of their standard of living.

“We also are concerned with the impact of the new self plus one category in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which will raise costs for families with more than two persons.

“None of this would be occurring were it not for the perverted logic of austerity politics. The Budget Control Act was a grave mistake, and the spending cuts it imposes year after year have been ruinous for our economy and for the government services on which all Americans depend. Spending cuts hurt the poor and the vulnerable, and they also hurt military readiness, medical research, enforcement of clean air and water rules, access to housing and education, transportation systems and infrastructure, and homeland security.  Congress should focus its efforts on repealing the Budget Control Act, not pitting federal workers against the very programs to which they have committed their lives.

“While we have not yet seen the language limiting the compensation taxpayers must pay for individual contractor employees to $487,000, AFGE will work to lower the overall amount, which is still too high, and also will work to ensure that there are no unnecessary loopholes or exceptions.  Although limiting contractor compensation technically doesn’t ‘score’ for budget purposes, GAO estimates that it will save almost $500 million annually, just in DoD.  Agencies will be better off by being able to rid themselves of ridiculously high compensation for contractor employees.

“AFGE’s members are extremely grateful for the heroic work of House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland for his efforts as a chief negotiator of the budget deal, and in particular for his extraordinary efforts to protect current federal employees. AFGE also is grateful to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, Frank Wolf of Virginia, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Nita Lowey of New York for their leadership in pushing for a deal that would not unfairly punish federal workers.  Finally, Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Harry Reid of Nevada all worked hard to ensure that the budget deal was fair for federal workers.”

Is The Congressional Budget Committee Really Out To Destroy The Post Office?

United States Postal Service fleet; U.S.A.Some on the Congressional Budget Committee seem to be misguided on what their task is by seriously considering a proposal to eliminate Saturday mail delivery. The Postal Service has reported an operating profit of $600 Million for Fiscal Year 2013. Its first profit since 2008. Parcel revenue soared to an all time record high of $12.5 Billion. Increasing 8% over last year. So you would think that this is a time to increase service not to decrease it. The USPS is growing to the point that some parts of the country have instituted a limited 7 day’s a week parcel service. Its time to grow the service not shrink it.

This week the Congressional Budget Committee is considering sneaking in a poison pill that would in all probability kill the Postal Service over time and eliminate thousands of jobs immediately. This Budget Committee was set up to mitigate the harmful effects of the Federal Shutdown and sequestration on jobs and public services.   Instead  incredibly they are  exacerbating the problem on both fronts by reducing arguably the most popular and effective part of the Federal Government.

Letter Carrier US Postal Service Though the Postal Service makes an operating profit it is under constant attack by some members of Congress because it provides a popular government service delivered by unionized workers. Government Services and unions are the top targets of the privation zeal of the right-wing. Ideology trumps common sense with these politicians. Somehow they never mention that the worlds best Postal Service does not use ONE CENT of tax payer money

This committee is also attacking the entire Federal workforce by taking $20 billion out of government workers paychecks by increasing workers share of retirement costs.

These same members of this budget committee seem to have no issues with spending billions of dollars every year on a F-35 fighter jet program that literally can’t get off the ground. Yet seem hell-bent on reducing a cost neutral public service that unites our entire country.

The Postal Service financial report is only made gloomy due to an unprecedented retiree health care mandate. The mandate requires the Postal Service to fully fund retiree health care benefits decades in advance, was responsible of 100% of FY 2013 losses and 80% of losses implemented in 2007. This mandate has manufactured a postal crisis that is being used by some politicians to dismantle it.

Apparently the elimination of Saturday delivery will be tied to a trigger that can easily be manipulated by congress and result in disaster for millions of Americans who rely on the Postal Service. These same phony triggers were included in Michigan’s notorious anti union legislation Public Act 4. That destructive law was fortunately repealed by voters last month. We must prevent this Budget Committee from making a similar mistake.

Congress expects to unveil its 2014 budget plan on Friday so the time is short to let members of congress know that eliminating Saturday mail delivery is not an option that makes economic sense. It’s a false choice that the Postal Service must shrink to survive.

 

New Hampshire Citizens To Rally Against Cuts To Social Security At Sen. Ayotte’s Office

Below is a message from Olivia Zink, Director of the NH Citizens Alliance

NH Citizens Alliance

Have you ever seen a movie, thought it was awful, and then been horrified to learn there was actually going to be a sequel?

That’s how we feel about yet another looming fight over our country’s budget. “The Budget Battle: The Sequel No One Wants” is not a movie anybody wants to see.

But some Republicans are insisting we watch it. Their hostage-taking has forced a sequel of the same manufactured debt crisis. Right now, Republicans on the Budget Committee—like committee Chair Paul Ryan—are trying to get Democrats to keep the sequester in place and agree to even more austerity pain by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

Senator Kelly Ayotte is on the Budget Committee. Tell her to oppose any plan that includes benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Stop the cuts to Social Security by reducing the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA).

Who: Advocates for Social Security and Medicare
What: Rally and message delivery
Where: Nashua office of Senator Kelly Ayotte
144 Main Street, Nashua
When: Tuesday December 3, 12:00 noon

You can make a difference. Senator Ayotte is on the powerful Senate Conferees Committee who will vote on December 13th . Let make sure she hears from NH voters loud and clear that NH voters do not wants CUTS our Social Security.

Thank you for helping us send a powerful and personal message to all members of Congress: Let’s get to work on creating the sequel to the budget battle that working people, not extremist lawmakers and their corporate funders, want to see.

Less than a month to go! Republicans are chasing wild geese while the federal government heads toward default

Canadian GeeseThere’s less than one month to go until the federal government can’t fudge its debt limit anymore. Last week, the US Treasury announced it could run out of artificially-created “headroom” as soon as mid-February.

Ever since then, Republicans have been trying to turn the debt-limit headlines to their advantage. But if you look closely enough at these “wild goose chases”, they just show the growing distance between GOP rhetoric and the reality the rest of us are living in.

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Their first idea? Wait things out. Then, once the Treasury runs out of headroom, just pick and choose which bills to pay. Or, in Republican-speak, “prioritize spending.” Their priorities, according to Reuters: pay the bondholders first; then pay Social Security and military salaries.

The first problem with this idea? The Treasury’s Inspector General has already told Congress that “prioritizing spending” is not – at this point in the crisis – actually possible.

Treasury noted that it makes more than 80 million payments per month, all of which have been authorized and appropriated by Congress… Treasury’s [accounting and computer] systems are designed to make each payment in the order it comes due.

In other words, the system simply isn’t set up to pay some bills and ignore others. How long would it take to completely restructure the federal government’s payment systems, in order to “prioritize” which bills get paid? Undoubtedly longer than the debt-limit “headroom” will last.

Second problem with this idea? How much money will it cost, to restructure the Treasury’s payment systems? Maybe some GOP campaign contributor would be the only IT vendor qualified to make those changes. But wouldn’t that money be better spent on other things?

Third problem with this idea? Stop and think about this, for a minute. Do we really want our country to stop paying its bills, even just some of its bills? Do we really want our country to fulfill its obligations to a select few, and ignore the rest? What would that say about America? (Maybe this is really the first problem with this idea. What are the Republicans thinking?)

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So then, the Republicans went off to a retreat at the Kingsmill Resort in Virginia. (I’m guessing the GOP missed the irony in starting Martin Luther King Day weekend at a former slave plantation. Whatever happened to the Party of Abraham Lincoln?)

There, among three championship-caliber golf courses, GOP members announced their newest idea to deal with the debt limit crisis. The House GOP will concede to a three-month increase in the debt limit, but only if Congress passes a budget within those three months.

Peter PanOk, it’s starting to sound like Peter Pan’s “Neverland” here. Congress created the debt-limit crisis by approving spending but refusing to authorize the debt limit increase. Now the GOP wants to postpone that crisis by creating another crisis.

If nothing else, this really ought to draw attention to just how dysfunctional Congress has become in recent years. They’re answering one failure of Congress with another failure of Congress.

Yes, passing a budget is one of the Legislature’s most fundamental responsibilities. And yes, it has been years since Congress actually passed a federal budget. But isn’t it time to ask, why?

Think about the usual budget process (which is very similar to the way New Hampshire’s Legislature passes the state budget). Usually, the House passes a version of the budget. Then the Senate passes a version of the budget. Then a conference committee figures out a compromise between the two versions. Then the conference version goes back to the House and the Senate for an up-or-down vote.

Do you really think the House and Senate are going to be able to agree on a version of the budget in the next three months?  Congress has been at a stalemate for years.  The last Congress was the most unproductive Congress since they started keeping records.  [Want to know what they did manage to agree on? 17% of the bills that were actually passed involved naming post offices or other public buildings].

But now, after a few days’ “retreat” at a plantation-turned-resort, House GOP members think they’re going to be able to turn this situation to their advantage.

No word yet on whether this latest Republican goose-chase is going to amount to anything more than just weekend headlines.

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Wondering what’s the latest on that “headroom”?

If you remember, our federal government hit the debt limit on December 31st, and the US Treasury started taking “extraordinary measures” to keep the country from defaulting on its obligations.

Smashed Piggy Bank RetirementLast week, the Treasury started starting paying government bills by using federal employee retirement funds to create “headroom” under the debt limit. The “G Fund” is a 401(k)-style retirement program with more than 3 million enrollees, including members of the military.

The law allowing retirement monies to be used to create “headroom” also promises to make members’ accounts “whole” after the crisis has passed. That’s what happened the last time there was a debt limit crisis, back in August 2011; and what happened after the debt-limit crises in 2006, 2004, 2003, and 2002. [Wait… am I just imagining there’s a correlation between debt-limit crises and the Bush-era tax cuts?]

But there’s no word on what happens if this particular debt-limit crisis isn’t solved.

And, no word on what happens if House Republicans decide they want to “reform” federal employees’ retirement benefits again.

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And yes, those unaffordable-but-Congressionally-mandated US Postal Service payments are part of the “extraordinary measures” the Treasury is now taking to keep our government from defaulting on our debt.

“The Postal Service would still have positive net revenue today except for … a requirement that Congress imposed on it in 2006. No other public or private business in America faces this onerous requirement.” Read the letter signed by 82 Members of Congress here.

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One last word about Paul Ryan: he must truly be a special guy. Ordinarily, he would have been replaced as House Budget Committee Chairman this year because of GOP “term limits”. It looks like at least three other GOP Committee Chairs will lose their positions, but Speaker Boehner has already decided to give Chairman Ryan a waiver and allow him to stay on. Read more here.

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