The good old days for federal, and postal workers and retirees may have ended Oct. 18.
The next day the stock market took a surprise nose dive that has a major potential impact on the pay and pension checks of the civil service community.
Consider: Before the market dropoff, a budget gridlock between the White House and Congress threatened, at worst, the possible loss of 100,000 jobs (not people, but jobs) from a civil service payroll of nearly 3 million.
There was talk of other belt-tightening on travel and promotions if the automatic features of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction act went into effect next month. The possibility of those across-the-board cuts was the threat because the Democratic- controlled Congress was pushing a budget plan that included defense cuts and tax increases opposed by the president. But even the grim prospect of layoffs for some had no effect on January raises due nearly several million workers and retirees.
Then came Black Monday, and the stock market crisis that almost overnight changed all the rules.
Since the stock market became problem No. 1, the White House and Congress have agreed to conduct budget talks with "everything" -- except Social Security raises -- negotiable.
The idea is to come up with a united plan to reduce the deficit that, backers hope, will restore both foreign and domestic confidence in the U.S. economy and restore some of the multibillion-dollar losses the stock market has suffered that have affected everything from individual investments to the pension funds of private companies and some state and local (but not the federal) governments. If "everything" means what it says, hold on -- because the first place that economizers (both Democrats and Republicans) usually look is expenditures for civil service matters.
As recently as last week, white-collar federal workers were guaranteed a January pay raise. The only question is whether it would be 2 percent or 3 percent. Now the question is whether there will be one. Remember that in 1985 Congess and the White House put a freeze on federal pay, and the stock market was in great shape then.
As recently as last week, federal and postal retirees were guaranteed a 4.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment in January. That's the same amount due persons under Social Security. Now the question is whether Congress will do what it did in December 1985. That was when retirees came due for an automatic 3.1 percent raise the following month, but as soon as Congress passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction act, the very first thing it did was cancel the COLA for federal and military retirees, but not people under Social Security.
If you are an active duty federal employe or retiree, it is much too early to panic. Lots could change before the Nov. 20 deadline for White House-congressional action, and the pay and pension increases may be untouched.
Nobody is predicting that federal workers and retirees won't get their January raises. But it is well to remember that in just over a week the raises have moved out of the sure-thing category, which is also something nobody would have predicted.