Can you stand a little good news for a change?

It appears that the congressional-White House drive to cut back the number of cost-of-living (COL) pay raises for federal-military retirees has suffered a temporary setback.

Two weeks ago, it was all but certain Congress would enact proposals to eliminate one of the COLs that retirees now get each year. The plan is to limit retirees to a single inflation adjustment that would come either in March (the White House plan) or July (the congressional plan). Either way, retirees would lose one of their COLs, and at the current rate of inflation that would cost them about $1 a day in annuity increases.

Both the Senate and House approved "balanced budget" resolutions of their respective budget committees which contained $500 million a year savings in the form of one COL a year rather than two. But Congress is having second thoughts about the value of a "balanced budget" in an election year. The problem is that pressure groups of the political right center and left all have some quarrel with portions of the balanced budget that would mean cuts in funds, programs and benefits for them.

Senate-House conferees are trying to work out an acceptable balanced budget resolution that would mandate various committees to approve legislation that would accomplish cost savings in various areas. Of special interest to government and military personnel and retirees is the resolution that would eliminate one of their two COLs.

Mail and telephone complaints to Capitol Hill, from active duty and retired personnel, have been heavy. Most people oppose the COL cutback, which they see as a breach of contract. There have been warnings that any politician with a big bloc of government or military personnel or retirees in his or her district could lose that vote if the COL cutback comes to pass.

There are three possible long shots that could work to block any COL reduction this year. Keep an eye out for any of these possible events that could save the two COLraises:

If backers of the two COL raises can get a separate, on-the-record vote in either the Senate or House on the issue, they believe they can win. That is, members would be reluctant to go on record favoring a COL cutback with 8 million people -- retirees and active duty personnel -- looking over their shoulder.

There could be a move to make the COL cutback a temporary action. That is, the single COL raise could be limited to the 1981 fiscal year only. Under that scenerio, retirees would not get a raise this September (about 8 percent is due them) but they would get the raise due next March, and then revert back to the present system in 1981 so they could continue to get two COLs a year. Technically that action -- one raise this year only -- would satisfy the budget resolution. Whether it would be acceptable to the budget committees, however, is another matter.

The third possibility is that nothing will happen. The balanced budget fight could become so intense that Congress will fail to act on it before adjournment. That would leave intact the current system of two COL a year. a