Hooray, the debt ceiling has been raised!
Now comes the hard part.
So, what does that mean anyway? Let’s look at the first item in the president’s fact sheet on the bipartisan budget deal …
“[The deal] removes the cloud of uncertainty over our economy at this critical time, by ensuring that no one will be able to use the threat of the nation’s first default now, or in only a few months, for political gain.”
No surprise there—even a casual observer by now might agree that this, in a nutshell—vying for political advantage—is what the debt-ceiling debate really has been about.
While the part about removing “the cloud of uncertainty over our economy” may have some validity (many would disagree), the budget deal by all accounts in fact introduces a whole lot of new uncertainty somewhere else: the federal workplace.
Because the thrust of the bill, aside from raising the debt ceiling, is simply to cut.
And then cut some more.
“Federal agencies will have to cut $7 billion from their current budgets under the first phase of this debt deal,” notes American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage. “This could mean cutting tens of thousands of federal jobs like Social Security claims representatives, doctors and nurses at VA hospitals, border patrol agents and EPA scientists.”
Or pretty much any other federal position. Agencies, and a lot of contractors, are going to have to tighten their belts. Really tight.
“Federal workers in agencies throughout the government will no doubt be facing furloughs and even RIFs, and private-sector workers working for contractors will also be impacted,” predicted International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers President Gregory Junemann.
Over the past few days, federal employee advocates have reined in their enthusiasm over the bill’s absence of measures directly addressing federal pay and benefits. That may be because they knew that the bill didn’t really have to address pay and benefits: Total employment costs will go down anyway if agencies are squeezed into cutting employees or not replacing them. Besides, Congress can always take it up in the future.
Anyway, look on the bright side: The bill is signed. The government won’t have to default. Financial markets are heaving a sigh of relief.
And perhaps best of all, Congress is leaving town for a month.
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