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Insight by Mike Causey: Gridlock, stock and barrel

Gridlock is one of those things most people can agree on. It’s bad. Whether it’s local traffic, problems with airline flight times, or in Congress. But is it always, as in always, bad? Aren't there times when a little gridlock goes a long way? Mike Causey says feds, more than most people, can appreciate the upside of gridlock.

The White House says gridlock must end. One of President Obama’s first post-election statements dealt with the fiscal cliff the nation is facing—the possibility of sequestration which could trigger across-the-board cuts of more than 8 percent in just about every federal operation and program.

Gridlock on Capitol Hill also means that tax cuts, cuts that most of us have grown accustomed to, will go away. And the Alternative Minimum Tax level will climb and hit more people. Gridlock on the hill will trigger more unemployment, possible layoffs in government, and furloughs for tens of thousands of feds. And it will hit government contractors, too.

The Senate Democratic leadership, which has done its share to contribute to gridlock, says gridlock must end.

The House Republican leadership, which has done its share to contribute to gridlock, says gridlock must end.

All parties, to some degree or another, say compromise is the way to go. That’s the new order of the day. They say they are willing to compromise. But not too much, and not on certain things.

We might pause at this point to note: Gridlock has not been all that bad for feds, at least so far.

Say what?

Although the two-, going on three-year federal pay freeze continues, it is the only major hit that federal workers have taken so far ...

There were serious plans, even votes taken, to shave your retirement benefits, force you to pay more for your pensions, to de-liberalize the system used to compute cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, and to gradually require civil servants to pay a much larger share of their health premiums (it’s now about 29 percent of the total tab) until they would eventually be picking up 50 percent of their total premium cost.

Oh, and then there was talk of that plan to trim retirement costs by basing the annuities of future retirees on their highest 5-year average salary, rather than basing those benefits on the more generous high-3 formula.

All, or nearly all, of these things have been proposed before. And didn't happen.

But insiders said that 2012 was the year of the perfect political storm, and that there was a good (as in bad) chance that one or more of these proposals would have been voted into law by now.

Only now it's mid-November, and nothing has happened. Because of ...

Gridlock! That monster! The proof that politicians in Washington, at all levels and of both political parties, can't get it right. Or won't get it right, as they hold a food fight, for political and ideological reasons, between ever-elongated periods of vacation.

Gridlock may be bad for the economy, the jobs numbers and the stock market. But so far, it has been pretty good for feds. And retirees.

There is every reason to believe, now that the elections are over, that the House, Senate and White House may reach some kind of agreement on spending cuts and taxes.

Taxes for the rich, maybe. The question is: How rich? According to some economists, if you have a salary of $113,000 per year (or more), you are in the top 10 percent of wealthy Americans.

So where does that leave you?

If the experts are right, going off the fiscal cliff could bring back the recession, maybe even a depression. We could look like most of Europe which—great culture, neat buildings and wonderful food aside—would not be a good thing.

On the other hand, getting past gridlock could mean a new assault on federal pay and benefits.

Wouldn't it be horrible if, a short time hence, you end up looking back fondly at how good you had it in November 2012?

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