Framework for Unified Conservatism Creates Challenges for Federal Offices

A large number of government employees are up in arms about the Republican’s 2019 budget proposal. The GOP has termed the legislative proposal, A Framework for Unified Conservatism. After watching a House of Representatives led by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), a U.S. Senate led by majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Donald Trump’s White House push through a 1.5 trillion dollar tax cut, with well over half going to a reduction from 35% to 21% in the corporate tax rate, federal employees are watching their retirement benefits and health benefits come up on the chopping block. Their reaction was not surprising.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest and most powerful union of federal employees. The organization’s National President J. David Cox Sr. issued a public statement in response to the proposals:

“President Trump’s war on working people knows no limits…Federal offices across the country are struggling to recruit and retain workers because federal wages and benefits are falling behind the private sector. While the proposals themselves are bad enough, so is the way the administration is trying to ram them through Congress…attached to the Department of Defense’s fiscal 2019 authorization bill.”
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The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) director Jeff Pon submitted an open letter to Speaker Ryan that proposed legislation that would align with the budget proposed by the White House for 2018. He argues the merit for the cuts is based on keeping with the retirement trends in the private sector. The proposal had four main facets: elimination of government supplementation of Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) annuities “for new retirees and survivor annuitants,” lowering the pension calculation by including the five highest years instead of three highest years, an increase in the employee’s responsibility to fund their retirement benefit, and elimination of cost-of-living adjustments.
The OPM falling in step with the White House’s budget policies gives rise to the probability of the administration’s proposed pay freeze for civilian employees becoming a reality. On the other side of the aisle, Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee chair Gerry Connolly (D-VA) commented that “It’s the wrong thing to do and the wrong thing to do.” Back in December 2017 it was reported that Gerry Connolly was one of four Congressmen who sent a letter to House leaders urging them not cut federal employees pay and benefits. One of the largest concerns of the four Congressmen—also including Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Elijah Cummings (D-MD)—is the ability of government agencies to retain and recruit talent moving forward.
In our era of extreme political polarization, this legislation is certainly no exception. Most Republicans are lining up with the President on the side of cutting into Federal Employees pay, and benefits in the name of lining up those benefits with the private sector and cutting into government spending while Democrats vocalizing their opinion are deeming the proposed cuts a betrayal of the promises made to middle-class federal employees. The two sides also do not agree on the OPM’s assertion that these cuts will, in fact, bring the retirement benefits of federal employees with working people in the private sector. Many of men and women employed by the federal government have spent the majority of their working life under the assumption that those benefits established for their retirement were not at risk of being adjusted and reduced based on a changing political landscape.
The 2018 mid-term election is just months away now. The focus of the media is largely on the Russia investigation, Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels and the ever-flowing Twitter stream of the President. However, it is the economy and how people perceive the government is looking out for their interests that motivates how American’s vote. As the campaign season heats up expect to see more frequent mention of legislation like A Framework for a Unified Conservatism.

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