The battle over the twice yearly cost-of-living (COL) raises for federal and military retirees is getting more complicated and confusing.
Both budget committees of Congress and the White House want to limit U.S. retirees to a single COL a year. They say it is unfair, and costly, to give federal and military retirees an inflation adjustment every six months when persons under Social Security get such raises only once a year.
The fact that federal personnel pay more for the pensions they get, and pay taxes on them (Social Security is not taxed) doesn't deter those who would whittle back the COL portion of the employment contract Uncle Sam has with workers.
Both the Senate and House budget committees came up with budgets, initially approved by the full House and full Senate, ordering a change in COL rules, to give federal retirees only one raise a year.
That didn't sit too well with the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee or the House Post Office-Civil Service Committee. Both have jurisdiction over federal retirement benefits, and members of both committees resented the budget committees resented the budget committees telling them what to do.
At any rate the Senate approved a "compromise" that would make a $500 million savings in the upcoming fiscal year by eliminating the COL raise due retirees this September. That is intended to be a one-time reduction. The twice-yearly COL would resume with the March 1981 raise (which would be a full catch-up) and the September 1981 adjustemt.
The House Post Office-Civil Service Committee took the same legislative route. But it wound up at a different address. It decided to make the one-shot COL a one-time event. But instead of agreeing to eliminate the September 1980 raise, it voted to give that one to retirees and then have them skip the March 1981 raise. The committee would return to the twice-yearly COL system beginning with the September 1981 raise.
The action of the two committees means that Congress will probably adopt the one-time COL concept for one-year. The question is which raise will be eliminated, and in which year. Will it be the Senate version that drops the September 1980 raise, or the house plan to skip the March 1981 raise?
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) represents lots of federal workers, and lots of federal-military retirees. She thinks both plans are unfair.
Schroeder says skipping the September raise (the Senate plan) would cost the typical retiree about $380 in lost or deferred income. The House committee proposal (to drop the March 1981 raise) will cost the typical beneficiary $260.
Schroeder thinks the choice is much the same as asking a person which hand they want broken? One is better than the other, but not a whole lot.
She thinks Congress ought to bite the bullet, live up to its pledge to federal workers and retirees and keep the twice-a-year COL system. Schroeder -- many retirees -- fear that the "temporary" loss of one COL raise could easily be made permanent next year by Congress.
Hundreds of retirees and workers have called, asking this column to run a list of Senators and House members who oppose the two COLs. Just the names, they say, we will do the rest. With letters and telegrams for now. With the ballot this November.
Meantime, Congress is faced with the budget committee mandate (that Congress initially approved) to drop one of the two COLs. Both the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and the House Post Office-Civil Service Committee have tried to make the cut as brief, and painless, as possible. The question now is not whether Congress will eliminate one of the two COLs, but which one it will eliminate. And will it do the same thing next year?