Around the House Ways and Means Committee, where the talk often is the strange tongues of taxation, there is no rhetorical confusion over this one.

They call it "Conable's Problem," a shorthand term that has come to mean the story of a New York Republican congressman's jousting with the Tax Man.

It involves the efforts - going back a number of years - of Rep. Barber B. Conable Jr. to protect thousands of his constituents' pensions from the bite of the Internal Revenue Service.

Actually, Conable's Problem is symbolic of much of the workaday stuff that confronts a typical member of Congress - getting satisfaction from bureaucrats who have ideas about reshaping life styles in 435 congressional districts.

But most members of the House don't have the clout of a Barber Conable. He is the ranking Republican member of the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the tax law, That is clout.

Even at that, it hasn't been easy for Conable to hold off the IRS. The Problem stems from a situation at the Eastman Kodak Co., in Conable's district, but the same situation affects other thousands of wage earners around the country.

In 1958, Kodak came up with a plan that would allow employes to treat an annual profit-sharing bonus two ways - a plan now used by many companies in the United States.

At the end of each year, the employe could take the money in cash - and pay an income tax on it. Or he or she could put it into a pension program - and not pay a tax until retirement. The IRS approved the plan.

But the IRS, looking increasingly for ways to tax income that customarily has not been taxed, lately has had a lust for that money that goes into pension plans under the cash-option approach.

The IRS has from time to time proposed that the option be eliminated. The employe would have to decide, for all time, to talk the cash or to put the bonus into the pension plan. No more of this back-and-forth stuff.

Conable considers that dirty pool, changing the rules in the middle of the game and maybe even encouraging people to take the cash and not save for a rainy day.

One year, Conable uses his clout at the committee to cut the IRS off at the pass. The IRS comes bouncing right back. He cuts them off again and back they come.

It has made the mild, thoughtful Conable say unmild and unthinkable things.

He calls the middle-level fellows at the Treasury Department "running dogs." When Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R.N.Y.) was supporting a bill that would have let IRS get at the Kodak bonus money. Conable put out the word that he wouldn't campaign for Javits. The senator changed his tune.

Another time, Conable told William Simon, then the Republican Treasury secretary, that he would never give the GOP administration help at the committee "unless he called off his dogs."

"Simon insisted that his dogs were not on it, but they were. I was talking about the little folks down at Treasury who kept pushing this idea," Conable said.

During the past several congresses, Conable has introduced bills that would allow employes of large firms such as Kodak, Xerox, Avondale Mills, the National Bank of Detroit, Morgan Guaranty Trust and many others to continue their cash-option programs without IRS interference.

"The problem comes from IRS wanting to change its regulations," he said. "It is not as though these pension option programs are special treatment for a certain class of employes - they must be available to all."

Conable added, "We should be encouraging companies to share their profits in ways that are attractive to employes and to expand the private pension system. Otherwise people will become more dependent on government and Social Security."

For now, a short-term solution - the old Band-aid he keeps pulling out - is in sight. Blending his bill into it, the House and Senate have passed legislation that would keep the IRS away from those special cash-pension options at least until 1980.

After that, unless Congress passes a definitive ban on the IRS or unless it drops its fight, Conable's problem may be back at his doorstep.