The period between Jan. 17 and Feb. 17 will seem a lot longer that 31 days to the several thousand career, elected and appointed top federal officials who have big money riding on a proposed pay raise.

This is the time frame Congress has to act on a pay proposal President Ford will make to it next Monday.

The recommendations will effect not only congressmen but also federal judges, political appointees of the Carter administration and more than 20,000 career government executives.

Nearly everybody who would benefit by a pay raise lives in the Washington area.

Mr. Ford top pay adviser, the chairman of the Civil Service Commission, says the people involved deserve the full amount of the raises. That would be from 20 per cent to 40 per cent as proposed last month by a blue-ribbon citizen's panel headed by former Commerce Secretary Peter Paterson.

The Peterson group is pushing hard for the pay raises and for congressional reforms, and it took out a full-page ad in this newspaper yesterday urging Congress to bite the political bullet and allow itself, and other officials, to get the raises.

If the President does want the Peterson group - called the Quadrennial Congress would get a 29 per cent raise, to $57,500; federal judges would get 45 per cent increases, to $65.000 and top political appointees of the new Carter administration would get smaller but still substanial increases.

If president Ford does agree with the amounts suggested by the commission, it would raise the lid on career federal salaries. It would result in more than 20,000 government workers in the top grades getting raise of from $945 to $9,400 a year.

By law the President's recommendations - whatever amount he decides - must go with this budget message.

And by law they go into effect automatically within 30 days unless they are voted by either the Senate or the House.

The problem is that Congress, for a variety of reasons, may balk at the raises. There are two clouds on the horizon - if you happen to favor a big executive pay raise.

One potential trouble spot is the bill already introduced by Rep. Charles W. Whalen Jr. (R-Ohio). Whalen's bill would defer the raises for members of Congress for two years. That sounds simple enough. But it could put the House, if the bill passed, in the mood to scuttle other raises for other people. Very few congressmen, if pressed, will admit that they think their time and trouble are worth less than a Grade 18 civil servant who doesn't have to run for re-election. So Whalen's bill - which is supported by Rep. Newton Steers (R-Md.), sounds simple, but it could block the whole pay raise.

A more direct threat is legislation being planned by Rep. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley wouldn't mess around. His bill apparently would block all the pay raises - for everybody.

Grassley's argument is that the government already does pretty well paying supergrade career employees $39,600 a year. He also says his Iowa district is full of people who think the $44,600 straight salary members of Congress get is plenty.

The argument that 1 per cent of the nation's federal judges in recent years have left their lifetime, $44,600 jobs, for greener pastures in private industry may be true enough. But many of Grassley's constituents find it unimpressive.

The argument that anything less than $50,000 is unrewarding loses much of its appeal, Grassley and other members of Congress feel, beyond the beltway.

Grassley, Whalen and other pay raise opponents don't particularly care whether Ford recommends the full amount of the Peterson Commission raises, or smaller amounts. They want to make sure that the raises don't go into effect automatically, and that Congress has to vote itself a raise or cut itself out of the raise that other federal personnel get.