The odds are good that federal-military retirees will get a 7.7 percent cost-of-living (COL) raise effective September 1. And it looks as if people retiring by Aug. 30 will be able to get the full amount of that adjustment after all.
It also appears (and this is a fast-changing situation) that Congress is running out of steam -- and time -- in its drive to make retirees skip the COL raise due them in March, 1981.
This is what is happening:
The House Rules Committee yesterday failed to act on a budget reconciliation resolution. Among other things it would have eliminated the March 1981 COL raise, and prevented any of the 70,000 people planning retirement this month from getting the full amount of the September COL adjustment.
The Rules Committee vote is critical. It must clear the reconciliation resolution before the full House can act on it. (The Senate has already approved its resolution which is just the reverse of the House measure. The Senate plan would skip the September raise, but promises a full COL catch-up next March). U.S. retirees hope both plans fail.
But the Rules Committee did not take up the reconciliation resolution because, lobbyists believe, Chairman Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) did not have the votes to beat back an amendment being proposed by Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.). Bauman, a member of the committee, wants the committee to let Rep. Joseph Fisher (D-Va.) offer an amendment to the reconciliation bill that would force the House to vote separately on the retiree issue.
The thinking is that the House would kill off the plan to skip one of the two retiree raises if members have to vote on it separately. Retiree groups, postal and federal unions and military organizations have been lobbying hard to kill off both the Senate and House cutback plans, and to do it by forcing the House members to stand up and be counted.
At any rate the Rules Committee didn't vote on the issue yesterday. And every day that passes without financial congressional and White House action is a victory for U.S. retirees (and those about to retire) who don't want the rules changed.
If the law isn't changed by September 1, retirees will get the full 7.7 percent that goes into effect on that date. It will show up in annuity checks mailed for October delivery.
Even after the House approves its COL package, the measure will have to go to a conference with the Senate which has a vastly different bill. A compromise would have to be worked out, brought back to the full Senate and the full House for a vote, then on to the president. Look at the calendar to see why there is all the nail-biting on both sides.
The Senate plans to recess for the Labor Day holiday on Aug. 27. The House wants to go out by Friday, Aug. 29. Unless the COL issue is decided quickly, the September 1 deadline will arrive with no changes being made.
Backers of the plan to save the two COLs say they aren't out of the woods yet. Congress could still act in time to affect the September 1 raise. But time appears to be on the retirees' side.