- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

Friends of active and retired federal workers, police, teachers and other public employees are hoping legislative lighting finally strikes the evil twins that stalk their Social Security benefits.

The twins collectively eat into or eat up Social Security payments expected by the public workers when they retire.

Congress created the twins decades ago, hoping to prevent retiring civil servants from legally skimming the cream off of Social Security benefits. Lawmakers discovered that several high-paid feds who earned substantial federal pensions also were collecting premium Social Security benefits after completing minimal work.

Studies at the time showed that some high-paid feds “hired” one another to perform menial jobs from mowing lawns to housework at low wages and paying the minimal Social Security tax. After 10 years of service, they qualified for Social Security benefits.

In any case, Congress gave birth to the twins: the windfall elimination provision and the government pension offset.

Windfall elimination can trim hundreds of dollars per month from the Social Security benefit of feds who get pensions for service not covered by Social Security. Those with short service under Social Security take the biggest hit.

The group includes many teachers and public employees as well hundreds of thousands of active and retired feds under the old Civil Service Retirement System.

CSRS was replaced in the mid-1980s by a system under which feds pay into Social Security like most other American workers. Workers under the Federal Employees Retirement System, known as FERS, are not affected by the windfall elimination or pension offset.

Government pension offset is even more harsh. It can wipe out the Social Security spousal or survivor benefit of a CSRS employee who gets his or her federal pension.

Opponents of the twins say they might have made sense at the time but now impose a real hardship on people whose Social Security benefits are affected. They have fought for repeal or modification of the two formulas for more than a decade.

The hurdle isn’t getting enough members of the House and Senate to say they will vote for repeal. The trick has been to get the repeal past the two congressional committees responsible for tax legislation: the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

Foes of windfall elimination and pension offset think they might have a better chance getting some kind of relief now that Democrats have taken over Congress. But they aren’t betting a lot of money on it. Under Republicans or Democrats, the committees are likely to insist that the money a repeal will cost in taxes to the Internal Revenue Service be replaced from some other source. Because of the huge amounts involved, that isn’t likely.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcauseyfederalnewsradio.com.

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