- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Old government workers never die they just retire and become very, very, very politically active. If you doubt it, then ask your friendly member of Congress how his or her monthlong August vacation is going.

Most up for re-election pols all 435 House members and 33 of 100 senators will spend time at home mending fences, kissing babies and otherwise consoling their constituents. Many will spend time in nursing homes, which are chock full of captive, often lonely registered voters.

Others will seek out retiree audiences to promise to fight for lower drug prices, Social Security and Medicare, as the battle to control Congress approaches.

In the November general election, Republicans will try to maintain their control of Congress, currently at 12 seats, while Democrats guard their one-seat edge in the Senate.

With federal unions tilting toward Democrats and the White House frightening many feds with its inflexible demands for "flexibility" in the new Department of Homeland Security personnel system, retirees could make or break the candidacy of Republican centrists such as Rep. Constance A. Morella of Maryland.

She's done plenty for her mostly Democratic constituents, but it might not be enough unless the retiree vote comes through on her side.

Retirees want cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to remain fully indexed to inflation, and not become diet COLAs; they want the option to pay health premiums in pre-tax dollars to cut their tax bills and they want the windfall (which reduces a Social Security benefit) and the offset (which can eliminate a Social Security benefit) modified, if not repealed.

In many congressional districts and some states, retirees are numerous and the best organized are former federal and postal workers.

Washington, D.C., has 45,000 federal retirees. Maryland about 138,000 and Virginia about 135,000. California has 228,000; Pennsylvania 108,000 and Florida more than 170,000 retired feds. Because they live on inflation-indexed annuities and have lifetime health insurance, many are among the best-off elders in their areas.

The retired feds are organized, mostly through NARFE or the AARP or both, as well as belong to military groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Retired Officers Association.

In a close race, organized federal retirees can outvote almost any group, including less organized federal workers.

Playing the market

In just over one month the federal Thrift Savings Plan will move to a daily valuation system, which will enable investors to check their current balances, show amounts in "shares" for the first time and make fund-to-fund transfers in a matter of hours rather than weeks.

It now takes anywhere from two to six weeks to move money from one fund to another. The federal 401(k) plan offers a large cap, small-midcap, bond index, international stock index and a special Treasury securities fund.

The changeover also will make it possible but not desirable for feds to make trades that are completed the same day, or next day at the latest. Officials pray that investors won't jam up office computers or wreck their portfolios trying to outguess the ups and downs of the market.

That would be the bureaucratic version of day trading that is one of the easiest and fastest ways of turning a big pile of money into a small pile.

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