Federal Times Blogs

Poll: More than half of Americans feeling little or no impact from sequester

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For hundreds of thousands of federal employees, there’s been no escaping the effects of sequester-related budget cuts, either on their jobs, their paychecks or both.

For the general public, though, not so much. In a national poll this month by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 55 percent of those surveyed said the cuts have had little or no impact on themselves and their families.

There is another way to look at the results. As NBC News’ story notes, the percentage of respondents who said they’ve felt “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of impact stood at 22 percent, up from 16 percent in April.

But with more than half of Americans still feeling essentially unscathed, the new poll suggests one reason why Congress isn’t hustling to avert a second sequester during the new fiscal year that starts in October. The telephone survey of 1,000 respondents was conducted from July 17 through July 21 and has a margin of error of 3.10 percent.

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Obama pushes for Senate transportation bill with phased retirement

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President Obama today urged the House to pass the transportation bill the Senate approved last week. That bill, S 1813, contains a provision to allow older feds to phase into retirement — that is, work part-time while earning a partial pension — at the end of their careers.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on March 8 said he planned to bring the Senate’s bill up for a vote, instead of the troubled House transportation bill. But he may change course on that. Boehner is facing resistance to the Senate bill from members of his own party, and The Hill reports that he won’t decide how to move forward until he speaks to members of his caucus. He could announce this week how he plans to handle the transportation bill, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

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House passes pay freeze bill, but it’s already dead

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The House last night passed a bill paying for a payroll tax cut extension with a further pay freeze and steep cuts to federal retirement benefits. But that bill has almost no chance of actually becoming law.

The Senate will consider the House bill, but the Democrats controlling that chamber won’t pass it (for many reasons, but largely because it would speed up approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline). Even if the bill did make it through both houses of Congress, Obama yesterday pledged to veto it.

Time is running out for Congress to extend the payroll tax cut. It’s going to expire at the end of the month, but lawmakers are scheduled to skip town after Friday. It’s unclear what will happen next, but if Congress does strike a quick compromise on this, there’s a good chance a pay freeze will be included.

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Coffman introduces bill striking congressional pensions

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Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., today introduced his promised bill to cancel lawmakers’ future defined benefit pensions. HR 2913 wouldn’t touch any pension benefits accrued before its passage — or Social Security or Thrift Savings Plan benefits — but going forward, no current lawmaker would be able to add to the value of his pension, and future new lawmakers would get no pension whatsoever.

Coffman said that lawmakers who ask others to sacrifice must shoulder some of the burden:

These are extremely difficult economic times and we are in a debt crisis that will require sacrifices on the part of all Americans. Congress needs to set an example for the country and I believe that ending our pension plan would be a good start.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association opposes Coffman’s bill, and worries it could be the first step on a “slippery slope” towards doing away with rank-and-file feds’ pensions.

Lawmakers receive better benefits than federal employees, as we detailed Monday in this story.

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Hold on to your pensions: Obama calls for half-trillion more in cuts

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(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

The Supercommittee’s work is about to get a lot tougher. It was already supposed to find about $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, which is no easy task. But last night, President Obama asked the Supercommittee to find another $447 billion to pay for the jobs bill he proposed to a joint session of Congress:

The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I’m asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. And a week from Monday, I’ll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan — a plan that will not only cover the jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.

If the bill gets passed — and with ironclad Republican opposition to anything that smacks of more stimulus, that’s a gargantuan “if” — that means the Supercommittee will have to cut the deficit by nearly $2 trillion. And upping the ante makes it even more likely that federal pensions, pay and other benefits will be on the chopping block.

President Obama earlier this year put federal pensions on the table as part of the so-called “grand bargain” he was pursuing with House Speaker John Boehner, including a high-five, increased contributions, and a change to pensions’ future cost-of-living adjustments. That deal collapsed, but I would not be surprised if some or all of those proposals come back in that deficit plan Obama promised to release Sept. 19.

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Social Security payments will go out on time

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Social Security payments scheduled for Wednesday will be disbursed on time, Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue announced Tuesday.

Up until late last week, it wasn’t clear if lawmakers would strike a deal to increase the debt limit, causing concern for recipients of Social Security and VA benefits who probably would not have received payments.

Payments set for Aug. 10, 17th and 24th will also go out on time.  

“I am happy to announce there will be no delay in the payment of August Social Security benefits,” said Astrue, “which should be a relief to those people who were concerned about their benefits.  I’m pleased the President and Congress were able to come together in a bipartisan fashion to avoid an interruption in payments.”



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Senators reject creation of new cybersecurity committee

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Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are calling on Senate leaders to reject a proposal that would create a temporary committee to draft cybersecurity legislation.

In a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Collins and Lieberman said the creation of a temporary committee “would be a real mistake and a waste of time,” according to the July 13 letter.

In an earlier letter, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposed the creation of the Select Committee on Cyber Security and Electronic Intelligence Leaks to create legislation to protect critical infrastructure like the electric grid and financial network.

McCain argued that there are too many committees with oversight of cybersecurity, and the only way for comprehensive legislation to move forward is if lawmakers “step away from preserving their own committees’ jurisdiction.”

Tom Carper, D-Del, Collin and Lieberman introduced the 2011 Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act in February to amend the 2002 Federal Information Security Act and set limits on what the government can do to protect information infrastructure.

A new committee would “require a restart of efforts that have been underway for years and would wash away the significant progress that the Senate has made.”

Several House and Senate committees, including the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, have held hearings to review the White House cybersecurity proposal and hear from experts on the growing number of cyber attacks and needed solutions.


Cybersecurity bill prohibits Internet “kill switch”

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Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Tom Carper, D-Del, introduced a cybersecurity bill Thursday that would prevent the president or any federal employee from shutting down the Internet.

The 2011 Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act would amend the 2002 Federal Information Security Act and set limits on what the government can do to protect information infrastructure.

“Our bill contains additional protections to explicitly prevent the president from shutting down the Internet,” Collins said in a released statement.  “While experts question whether anyone can technically ‘shut down’ the Internet in the United States, our bill has specific language making it crystal clear that such actions are expressly prohibited.”

Among the other key provisions, it would create national center to “prevent and respond to cyber attacks,” require critical infrastructure owners to shore up cyber vulnerabilities, and establish a strategy to secure the federal IT supply chain, Lieberman said.

View the updated legislation.

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Federal pay freeze language online

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The House Appropriations Committee late last night posted the bill that would fund government operations for the rest of 2011, which includes language freezing raises for federal employees in 2011 and 2012. No real surprises as far as I can see, but if you want to look it over, it’s on pages 10 through 12.

And for those who missed it last night, here’s my interview with Capital Insider about the exceptions to the Obama pay freeze plan.

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Latest continuing resolution gets final approval

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Happy Friday!

On a voice vote Thursday evening, the Senate passed a continuing spending resolution to keep the government in business through Dec. 18. The House had approved the resolution Wednesday. It will extend a similar measure that was set to expire Friday at midnight, so no government shutdown for at least another two weeks.

Like its predecessor, this new resolution basically keeps spending at fiscal 2010 levels. Since Congress is not likely to finish up work on a dozen fiscal 2011 appropriations bills in the week before Christmas, there will probably be at least one more continuing resolution to push us iton the new year. Then, it’s up to the 112th Congress to decide what happens next.

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