Some bad news. Then some good news.
The bad: The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, in 9 to 6 vote, has okayed the Carter administration proposal to limit federal, postal and military retirees to one COL (cost of living) raise a year. There are 100,000 retirees in metro Washington.
The good: Under a compromise approved by the committee, the one-shot COL would apply only to this year. It means retirees would not get the September 1980 adjustment now due under current law. But next year, the economy measure would end. Retirees in 1981 would resume getting COL adjustments every six months, in March and September.
Losing the september 1980 raise -- now worth 6.6 percent -- is bad news to the retirees. But it could have been much, much worse. The once-only action, however, still must be acted on by both houses of Congress.
The original proposal of the Carter Administration, approved by the Senate and House Budget committees, would have "saved" $500 million a year by holding federal-military retirees to one COL a year. That change would have been permanent, costing a typical retiree about $1 a day in annuity income.
Under the compromise offered by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the one-shot COL would be a one-time thing, applying only to the adjustment due this September.
On June 13, this column reported that senators anxious to save the two COLs from permanent destruction might offer an amendment that would satisfy the budget committee and yet save the two COL raises in the long run. Committee members were lobbied long and hard by retiree groups. Federal and postal unions and individuals. Apparently you did some good.
The Senate committee and its House counterparts (Post Office-Civil Service) were required to approve the one-shot COL. What the Senate unit did was comply with the mandate, but make it a temporary COL reduction. Look for the House group to do the same thing.
If Congress buys the compromise, it means retirees will miss out on this Septembers COL raise, but they would get a full COL raise in March of 1981. Then they would go back on the two Col track with another full raise in September 1981 and every six months thereafter.
Opponents of the twice-yearly federal-military retirement adjustments say government retirees should get only one raise each year, as Social Security beneficiaries do. Retirees say the two COLs are part of their contract with Uncle Sam, and that their system (which is taxable) is different from Social Security, which is tax free.
The COL compromise is not out of the legislative woods yet. Administration officials will try to get the full Senate and House to make the one-shot COL a permanent change. But for now the compromise is the first good news retirees -- and people planning to retire some day -- have had this year.