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Unusual suspect

For the first time in a very long time the same political party controls the White House, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Back in the day, Democrats had that luxury for nearly 30 years, but nobody has had it lately. Until now.

For nearly two of the eight years I spent in the Army Reserve I did almost nothing except write, then rewrite, then revise the same letter. Over and over. Maybe a hundred times. Or more. I still had to do summer camps where we did real army stuff. But back home at the Reserve Center, while my comrades in arms were drilling, field stripping weapons or watching films about how to dig a foxhole during our Thursday night and all-day Sunday drills, I went AWOL.  But legally.

While others were in drill or combat mode I was over the hill. But with good cover. As soon as the roll-call was finished and the drilling commenced, one of the senior sergeants and I would retire to a comfortable room with coffee and a typewriter. He would dictate. I would type. Then we would discuss the evening (or days’) work and prepare it for yet another revision. And another. And another.  For two years.

My sergeant was a World War II vet who felt Uncle Sam owed him money. I think it was around $40. So the letter—if it we ever mailed it, which we didn’t—was addressed to the Secretary of War at the War Department. That was its original name before the more politically correct, and comforting conversion to the Department of Defense. Defense is better than War, but we’ve had an awful lot of wars in the time period when we went on Defense.  But I digress…

Just when we thought the letter was perfect and ready to be mailed (postage went up a couple of times during my tour) one of us, usually me, would find a flaw. Something in the letter which might outrage the Secretary of War and cause him to deny the claim. So we rewrote. And rewrote for nearly 24 months.  Good times…

When my military obligation was up, I found a new recruit who could write and type. I told him he had a good assignment coming up if he would meet the aggrieved sergeant (who was a wonderful guy and a good soldier at one time) and takeover my job as writer, editor and disassembler of letters. Somewhere out there good Sgt. Reed and some young trooper may still be at it. I hope so. 

So why this updated, poor man’s version of Two Years Before The Mast?

Because here we go again.  For the last dozen presidents, maybe more, federal and postal workers and retirees have faced the same old threats—year after year. Those threats were that they were going to cut our retirement benefits or charge us more for them, or change the ways retiree COLAs are calculated to cheat CSRS retirees out of anywhere from $60 to $80k in future benefits. Or fire or furlough us. Or shut down the government. This time, with congressional Democrats leading the way. And more of what somebody called the round-up-the-usual-suspects routine. The same threats are brought out, or brought up, every year. They mostly don’t happen. Or if they do (like higher contributions for FERS employees) they are made prospective so that it doesn’t impact current employees.

What makes things interesting is that this time some things may happen. For the first time in a very long time the same political party controls the White House, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.  Back in the day, Democrats had that luxury for nearly 30 years, but nobody has had it lately. Until now.

Another difference is the insider vs. outsider presidents. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, George H.W. Bush and Obama were insiders. All had served in Washington. All but Obama were war veterans. Of the outsiders to serve, Carter, Reagan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton all were governors and three, Carter, Reagan and Bush, were military veterans. But all understood how government operates. And why it does what it does.

Donald J. Trump is different. Love him or not, he’s the ultimate outsider. A New York businessman with no government or military experience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But he’s definitely different and might not take the more or less traditional approach his predecessors have taken to government.  Reagan threatened to slash government but it grew during his time in office.  Clinton made real cuts by contracting out many services and making it mostly painless with buyouts for long-time workers.

Trump is different. Maybe better for you as a fed. Maybe not.

But we may have left the era of round-up-the-usual suspects.  

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