With working time in the current legislative year dwindling, prospects continue to decrease for Congress taking action on federal employee and retiree benefits, either in the positive or negative direction.
Congress has effectively set aside at least until next year numerous proposals related to requirement that had been proposed in the White House budget and in a House-passed budget outline. Those included ideas such as raising employee contributions toward retirement, reducing the value of annuities of future retirees, reducing the value of retiree COLAs for both future and current retirees, and shifting more of the FEHB premium cost to enrollees, among others. The budget outline as ultimately passed by Congress did not require savings in the accounts, since it was mainly designed to allow the Senate to vote on tax policy changes with only a simple majority.
Appropriations bills that have advanced so far in Congress require no such changes. However, funding levels remain undecided, and a significant cut in spending could trigger job cuts, especially since agencies would not have a full fiscal year to achieve those savings. That in turn could trigger early retirement and buyout offers, which have been less common than employee organizations expected for the year.
One improvement in benefits proposed by the Trump administration, boosting the standard buyout maximum from $25,000 to $40,000 government-wide, also has gone largely dormant. A Senate committee has approved that idea and the full Senate could vote at any time, but the House has taken no action. The best prospect for approval before year’s end likely would be as an attachment to some other bill.