Raise the age for retirement, 2 in House say Shays, Michel urge a move to 65 or 62


WASHINGTON -- Two House Republicans say that the retirement age for federal employees is too low and should be increased to save the government money in pension payments.

Federal employees can now retire as early as 55, but Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Minority Leader Robert Michel of Illinois want it raised to 65 and 62 respectively.

Currently, federal workers who have completed 30 years of service can retire at age 55. After 20 years, an employee can retire at age 60. After five years, a 62-year-old employee can retire.

Mr. Shays proposed last spring that the retirement age be raised to 65 and phased in over a 20-year period. He persuaded fellow Republicans in March to include the higher age in the official GOP alternative to the president's budget package.

Since then, the passage of the president's economic package has not meant the death of Mr. Shays' idea. Last week, he proposed the change in legislation that could get a hearing in the Governmental Affairs Committee, of which he is a member.

"We still have a budget crisis, and one of the reasons we're having a budget crisis is because we allow federal employees to retire when they're still capable of working," Mr. Shays said.

He compared the early retirement age in the public sector to the usually higher minimum retirement age in the private sector. "It strikes me as hard to justify when federal employees work for the public and get better benefits than the people they serve," he added.

Mr. Michel recently unveiled another Republican proposal that would raise the retirement age to 62 over a five-year period. GOP strategists have included his proposal in their counterproposal to the White House health care bill.

Mr. Michel's proposal, if enacted, is viewed as a revenue-raiser for the costly health reform effort, said his press secretary, Missi Tessier. "It's not dissimilar to other proposals that this administration has proposed," she said. "It saves the government a lot of money over the long run."

Because of Mr. Michel's stature, one House staffer gave his bill a better chance of survival, although both proposed measures will meet serious resistance from Democratic champions of federal employees.

Mr. Shays called his bill "more moderate" because of the longer time it would mandate to phase in the change. Unlike Mr. Michel's bill, his version would apply to congressmen, senators and their staff members.

Federal employee labor leaders dismiss Republican arguments for higher retirement ages as "bunk," said Diane Witiak, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees.

"Many private sector employees retire well under the age of 65 or even 62," she said. "We're actually trying to lower the retirement age for stressful jobs like law enforcement, firefighters and customs inspectors."

Ms. Witiak decried the political efforts that would change labor-management contracts that already have been signed, but she said such efforts have become routine. "It's a constant hassle," she said.

Mr. Shays argued that such proposals are part of an effort to impose the kind of fiscal responsibility that firms have learned not to ignore.

He agreed with opponents that private sector employers allow some employees to leave earlier than 65 or 62. "And some of those companies are going out of business," Mr. Shays said.

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