If you spent last week in a cave, underwater or in a sensitivity training session at some remote, expensive, mountaintop lodge, you missed a heck of a week.
The news (nearly all bad) for feds, retirees and their families came so fast it was hard for anyone to digest. Whatever your excuse -- out of town, out of touch or brain overload -- here's a thumbnail sketch of what Congress has been up to. It is:
Moving to slap a 6 percent MAXIMUMon your October pay raise, no matter what happens to inflation, the economy or private sector salaries.
Preparing to eliminate one of the COL (cost of living) raises federal and military retirees get annually to keep pace with inflation.
Backing the president's plans for a $1.5 billion cut in federal salary and operating funds. That will mean fewer jobs, curtailed travel and make promotions harder to get.
Working to freeze pay of top-level federal employes and officials in grade 16 and above.
Planning to cut Saturday mail delivery, a proposal that will save money and gasoline while it boosts the unemployment roles by an undisclosed number of laid off postal workers.
Economy is the name of the game. Austerity has replaced Iran, OPEC and other four-letter things as the cause of the moment. Suddenly, it is more blessed to fight inflation than to get after people who pollute rivers, fail to fasten their seat belts, slaughter baby seals (or mother whales) or advocate nuclear-powered barbecue grills. And Congress -- aware that inflation is hot stuff this election year -- is running with the economy ball.
The House Budget Committee has been doing what it was set up to do -- laying out spending guidelines and making program cuts. Now it is prepared to make those cuts stick, by focing other committees with jurisdiction over spending to do what it says.
The balance of power on Capitol Hill is shifting. Committees that once acted as watchdogs of various federal agencies and programs will lose muscle to the budget committees.
In the House, for example, the PostOffice-Civil Service Committee has generally treated federal workers more kindly than other committees. It can and will hold hearings on federal pay reform, five-day mail delivery and the proposed COL cutback for retirees. But its role, like that of other "jurisdictional" committees, is different now.
Whereas the PO-CS panel or its Senate counterpart (Governmental Affairs) once could block, slow or modify legislation considered harmful to civil servants, both are now reduced to middleman roles. The budget committees have the power to force "jurisdictional" committees to act on budget items approved by the House.
The new thrust of the budget committees will weaken the power and influence federal, postal and retiree groups once had with the jurisdictional committees.
If, as expected, Congress approves the 6.2 percent federal pay cap for October, that will be the maximum amount federal workers can receive this year.
If, as expected, Congress okays five-day delivery of mail, the committees will have to go along with the plan. That could force the postal service to drop Saturday delivery (and thousands of employes) or require it to raise stamp prices to pay for the "extra" Saturday service.
If, as expected, Congress goes alongwith the once-a-year COL raise for retirees, the committees will not beable to keep the March and September COL adjustments. (The budget committee plan calls for an adjusted COL raise this July and would drop the September increase this year. Beginning in 1981, retirees woul get only one COL raise a year.)
All of the above happened, or startedhappening, in the space of one week. And Senate budget-cutters haven't gotten into the act yet. Keep an eye on it. Your pay, pension and jobs may be on the line.