How “Super Committee” May Impact Federal Employees
Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It is no secret that the political atmosphere in our nation’s capital has been toxic over the past few years. With partisanship at an all-time high, most legislation faces an uphill battle in both chambers of Congress. The FAA Reauthorization bill is just one obvious example of this gridlock. Recognizing the current environment, lawmakers created a “Super Committee” when they resolved the recent debt-ceiling crisis over the summer. Below, you will find a breakdown of what the Super Committee is and the impact it might have on the government. What you really need to know is that this Committee may have a very big impact on our professions and your paycheck!

As the Super Committee attempts to slash $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions over the next 10 years, it has become clear that the budgets in ALL federal sectors will be impacted if and when the Committee agrees on a plan. While the major issues and potential stumbling blocks facing the Super Committee are entitlement programs and revenue raisers, federal employees will definitely take a hit.

This Committee is only dealing with issues in broad strokes. Stated simply, they are not looking at individual sectors within the federal workforce, and Committee Members have been clear that any proposals will apply across the board to all federal employees.

NATCA’s Government Affairs staff has been relentlessly working through a number of coalitions reaching out to the Super Committee’s Members and staff as well as House and Senate leadership to help educate the Committee Members on federal employee issues that affect NATCA’s membership. The broad coalition consists of unions, professional association and management groups who are all working together to demonstrate that those representing the federal workforce are unified.

The following is a brief breakdown of the Super Committee, its charge, membership and timelines, as well as some of the issues we are facing:

What is the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction: The so-called “Super Committee” (Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) is a 12-member bipartisan panel that was created as part of the law that increased the debt-ceiling (Budget Control Act of 2011, PL 112-25). This law tasked the special Committee with finding a way to reduce the national deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. The Super Committee is mandated to submit a final report to Congress by November 23rd, at which time the proposed legislation will be fast-tracked through Congress. The Super Committee’s proposal will be filibuster-proof in the Senate, requiring a simple majority of 51 votes. Amendments will not be permitted in either chamber. If Congress fails to approve the Committee’s final report, or if the report calls for cutting less than $1.2 trillion, the law will trigger mandatory discretionary spending cuts through a process called sequestration.

The Super Committee has been holding a combination of public and private meetings to collect data and information, although many of their discussions and negotiations are being held behind closed doors. To date, the Committee has held three hearings on the history of the nation’s debts, revenue raisers and reforming the tax code, and discretionary spending. On September 19, President Obama sent a set of proposals for consideration by the Committee, which recommended a number of deficit reducing proposals, including cuts to federal employees.

Origins of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
: Debt ceiling negotiations occupied Congress from April until August 2, 2011 when President Obama signed a compromise bill to increase the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion (August 2nd was the last day the Treasury Department would have been able to pay its debt obligations without defaulting). The agreement included a $1.1 trillion cut in discretionary spending over the next 10 years, which will be enforced by binding annual caps through 2021. The agreement also mandated the creation of a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the Super Committee) to propose steps to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

Super Committee Goal
: The Committee's objective is to create a plan to reduce the national deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. The plan must be approved by Congress and signed by President Obama.

Composition of the Super Committee: The Committee consists of 12 members, three Democrats and three Republicans from both the House and Senate. It is led by co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).

 Democratic Members
 Republican Members
 Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) 
 Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) 
 Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
 Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)  
 Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)  
 Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)
 Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)  
 Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)  
 Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
 Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
 Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC)
 Rep. David Camp (R-MI)

Issues of Concern to NATCA
: The Super Committee is re-examining many of the proposed spending cuts that have been discussed over the past year. The three proposals affecting our members that continue to receive the most attention are:

  • Increasing federal employee pension contributions by raising the Federal Employees Retirement System contribution by 6.2 percent and increasing the Civil Service Retirement System contribution from 7 percent to 10 percent beginning in 2013
  • Overhauling the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program; and
  • Shifting pension calculations from high-three to high-five.

As a reminder, the President's Deficit Commission released an unofficial plan last December calling for significant changes, including increasing federal employee retirement contributions from 0.8 percent to an equal contribution between employee and the employer. This proposal for increased contribution seems to be receiving the most attention, and is mentioned in every discussion on discretionary spending cuts.  Should this proposal pass in any way, ALL federal employees could see a significant reduction in their take-home pay.
While these are the issues receiving the most attention, other issues affecting our membership are still on the table and being discussed, such as:

  • Cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition;
  • Extending the two-year civilian pay freeze for as much as an additional three years;
  • Eliminating step increases;
  • Eliminating FERS for new hires, and creating a defined contribution option to supplement the Thrift Savings Plan;
  • Limiting the FERS minimum supplement to employees subject to mandatory retirement; and
  • Mandating Two-week furloughs.

Super Committee Timeline:

Oct. 14: Deadline for standing Committees to forward their recommendations to joint Committee.
Nov. 23: Deadline for joint Committee to vote on legislative proposals, with a 10-year deficit reduction goal of $1.5 trillion.
Dec. 2: Deadline for joint Committee to formally report proposals.
Dec. 23: Deadline for House and Senate to vote on proposals, without amendments.
Jan. 15, 2012: Deadline for enactment of at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, or across-the-board spending cuts will be triggered (The Committee is officially tasked with cutting $1.5 trillion, but the cuts will be triggered if they fail to cut $1.2 trillion).
Jan. 2, 2013: If triggered, across-the-board cuts will take effect.
As stated earlier, the NATCA Government Affairs has been working on the Super Committee as its highest priority because of the short timeline and the negative impact some of their actions could have on our membership and the NAS.  By working with several federal employee coalitions, as well as leadership and Committee Members directly, we are able to ensure that our voice is heard as often as possible.  Government Affairs staff will continue to keep everyone posted on the progress of this Committee.