Within the next two weeks President Carter will make a multi-million dollar decision on federal and military pay. Each 1 percent he agrees to for the October raise will add $500 million to the price tag of the federal military payroll that now runs about $60 billion each year.
The President has a lot of options. He can stick with the 5.5 percent amount he put in his budget. Or he could give federal workers the 10.4 percent the government says is necessary to allow them to catch up with industry. He could go higher, or lower.He could cancel all raises this year and Congress would probably uphold it.
There is considerable speculation (perhaps laced with a lot of wishful thinking) that Carter will relent and give federal workers something like 7 percent. Union leaders hear that the national wage/price guidelines may be liberalized, and they hope this will give the president the leeway-- and the politcal out-- to give feds more than originally planned.
The White House says Carter has not yet made a final determination on federal military pay. And they doubt he will do it next week, while he is on his Mississippi River vacation.
A lot will be written-- especially in this town with 350,000 federal workers and more than 60,000 military people-- about pay over the next two weeks. Locally, federal pay raises are viewed as good things. The bigger the better.
Away from Washington, federal pay raises do not enjoy universal support. The fact that 86 percent of the bureaucracy is out there, not here, is lost on many. Washington is THE government to most people, and Washington isn't very popular these days.
People who argue that Carter will "lose" the federal employe vote forget that, big as it is, it isn't all that big. And kicking the bureaucrat is more popular than stroking him, at least outside the Capital Beltway.
Presidential aides say that whatever his decision on federal pay, economics rather than politics will be the deciding factor. That might work in favor of government workers since they are politically unpopular but, from an economic standpoint, have a good argument for something more than 5.5 percent.