After a week of debate, the Houe today or tomorrow is expected to approve recommendations of its budget committee to cut various federal spending programs. Cuts assigned to the people-side of governments -- for pay raises, pensions and the like -- amount to $4.2 billion.
Assuming the full House okays the budget-cutting outline, the next step is what "functions" are to be whacked, and how much power individual committees will have to say where those cuts will be made.
Both the White House and the Budget Committee say an obvious biggie on the federal-military personnel side is to do away with one of the two COL (cost of living) raises for retirees. Instead of getting inflation catchups would get a single annual adjustment.
The Carter people want the raise to come each March. The Budget Committee proposes July as the raise date.
Most people assume the Budget Committee recommendations will pass. Then it will be up to the House Post Office -- Civil Service Committee to decide, by June 15, how those cuts affecting the bureaucracy are to be made.
Much back-stage fighting will take place between now and June. Some Post Office -- Civil Service Committee members, who are committed to keeping the two COLs for retirees, think they could do it simply by cutting pay. Their idea is to endorse the 6.2 percent October raise Carter has already suggested, rather than fighting for the 11 percent due civil servants under the current catchup-with-industry system. Each 1 percent raise in federal-military pay and benefits costs more than $500 million.
Carter administration officials are not likely to accept that line of logic.
They like "cost avoidance" but only when they propose it. They point out they are expecting Congress will approve Carter's pay reform plan. Its new measurement techniques would produce a 6.2 percent October raise, anyhow. Besides, they say, Carter budgeted for 6.2 percent, so congressional endorsement of it wouldn't save anything. (Everybody is working with mirrors on this one.)
If the Carter people prevail, and if the full House does not accept a 6.2 percent federal-military pay raise as a "saving," somebody would have to go back to the drawing board to see what other dollar cuts could be nominated. Then the double COL raises could be back on the bargaining table.
The in-fighting could split federal postal unions who are the chief (if not only) spokesmen on Capitol Hill for bureaucrats. Unions representing white collar and blue collar workers might accept -- if they had no other choice -- a bigger October pay raise as a trade-off for elimination of one of the annual COL raises. Retiree groups won't like that, nor will the powerful postal unions.
Postal workers aren't affected by the pay fight on Capitol Hill. Neither are people already retired from government or the military. For them, keeping the two COL raises intact is vital.
One bright -- but not very big spot -- on the horizon. Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) has an amendment that would, if approved, restore power to make cuts to individual committees. It would translate what now amount to "orders" from the budget committee to the other committees into "recommendations," or guidelines.
Udall is one of the committee chairman (Interior), Democrats all, who wrote House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill a strong appeal. In effect it said: Get the budget committee off our backs; it is dictating terms, not acting like an advisory accountant should act.
If that resolution passes, the budget committee's teeth (fangs to some members of Congress) will be withdrawn, slightly. But whether committees like Post Office-Civil Service get "orders," or "recommendations," the bottom line could be the same. If the House votes cuts it will demand cuts.
Anyway you look at it, it appears feds -- as employes of the government establishment -- are going to get chopped somewhere this year. If they are lucky it will be either a reduced raise, or a COL cutback. If not so lucky it could be both.