Organizations representing 19 million federal workers, executives and retirees have shifted to a beyond-the-Beltway lobbying defense during this congressional Easter recess.
They hope to catch Senate and House members back home and make local appeals to spare public employe benefit programs from budget cuts. Although most civil service news and decisions are made here, only 14 of every 100 federal workers live and vote here. Washington area legislators -- Republicans and Democrats -- look kindly toward civil servants. But they are a minority group in Congress.
Groups ranging from the Senior Executives Association (which represents the government's 8,000 highest- paid career employes) to the 500,000-member National Association of Retired Federal Employees (representing many former workers living on low pensions) have lined up legislators for informal meetings. Independent and AFL-CIO federal and postal unions have alerted local leaders from Maine to California to bend the ears of elected officials on a multitude of problems pending for government workers.
The unions have also enlisted, with varying degrees of success, organizations representing state and local government workers who face many of the same problems as federal employes. Key lobbying targets are members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.
Many of the 200,000 retirement-age federal workers are concerned with the House-passed tax reform bill. It would eliminate, beginning in July, the post-retirement tax-free period for workers. Under current law, persons who contribute to their own pension plan are allowed to recover, after retirement, all the money they paid into the system before it is taxed. For the typical government retiree, the recovery period is about 18 months. During that time many federal workers cash in savings bonds, sell houses or get lump-sum leave payments that are taxed at a lower rate because their pensions aren't considered as income. The Senate Finance Committee plan would phase out that tax-free period over two years.
On Thursday we reported that any pension tax change made -- if one is made -- probably would not be effective until January or later. But a spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee denied that there is any "unwritten" agreement to delay the effective date of the federal public employe pension change. He did say, however, that if a tax reform bill is passed the year, it would be "unusual" for Congress to make any of its provisions retroactive.
Government employe groups are also eager to get congressional support for a bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) that would guarantee federal retirees -- who lost out on a cost- of-living adjustment in January -- a raise next year. That bill has 190 cosponsors but needs about 25 more to assure House passage.