Memo to: Members of Congress.
Subject: Job Security. Yours.
As you are aware, there is an election coming up soon. Most of you -- despite the hardship and long hours of your jobs -- are asking the folks back home to vote for you so you won't have to go back home.
Within the next couple of days you may be voting on a major budget item. It concerns 3 million federal and military retirees. All of them are old enough to vote. Most do.
The retirees live everywhere, in every community. In places like metro Washington (with 100,000 retirees), Florida, Virginia, Texas, Maryland, California and Arizona U.S. retirees represent a lot of votes. They are watching you.
The retired people are watching to see what you do with a budget-saving item. It would limit retirees to COL raises every 12 months, instead of the two per year they were promised (by law) by Congress. The White House and your own budget committees favor the single COL adjustment.
As a compromise, the Senate and House are considering legislation that would make the savings a one-time affair. The Senate would eliminate the September raise (of 7.7 percent) but allow the March, 1981 boost. The House plan would grant the September adjustment, and skip the March raise. Both proposals would allow the six months adjustments to return next year -- unless of course you people in Congress change the rules again. Many retirees suspect that if Congress makes the change this year, it will make it permanent next year.
If you are counting votes, and deciding what issues are important to people, consider this:
On April 13 this column asked U.S. retirees how they felt about the COL cutback proposal. It asked if people felt strongly enough about it to write in, and if they felt strongly enough to vote against you -- their member -- if you support the cut.
By June 28, when we stopped counting, more than 65,000 people had written in. That is a lot of mail. That is a lot of time, trouble and 15-cent stamps for people to invest.
I looked at most of the mail. And believe me, the writers are angry, bitter and ready to take it out of your legislative hide.
Thanks to the long-hours put in by the Washington Post's mailroom personnel, copyaides and news aides from the day and night sides, and the volunteer efforts to one Libby Causey, we can report the following results:
Better than 9 out of 10 said they opposed any COL cutback and the talked-about "integration" of the federal civil service retirement system with social security. That wasn't much of a surprise.
Eight out of ten said they considered this issue so vital that they would vote against anybody they can who favors the COL cutback. Many said that the "compromise" is a ploy, and they suspect Congress will move next year to make the one-per-year COL raise a permanent thing.
The comments directed against President Carter, and members of Congress -- many of them signed, some signed by dozens of people -- were the biggest surprise. Bureaucrats are supposed to be timid people who don't rock the boat. Well, the boat is rocking.
Just over 60 percent of the comments came from the East Coast area, heavily from metro Washington but also from Pennsylvania, North Carolina and West Virginia. A couple even from Plains, Ga., as well as from U.S. personnel stationed in London, Paris, and from workers in Guam, Hawaii and several South American countries.
The message is simpled: If you think the two COL raises per year are unfair (and many non-federal people do) why did Congress create it in the first place? Why make a budget-"savings" that really won't save very much, but will put the squeeze on retired people? If it is political, as most of the respondents suspect, be advised they can be political too.
Federal and postal unions have raised nearly $3 million to fight for -- or against -- members of Congress in this election, bases on the outcome of the COL fight. The National Association of Retired Federal Employees alone collected over $1 million from mail contribution in a 30-day period.
Members of Congress talk about the "privileges" of U.S. retirees. How about your free parking at the office? those reserved spaces at National and Dulles airports? the cut-rate medical benefits? and the many perks the tax-payers supply?
Vote your conscience, by all means. But if any political considerations creep into your decision, remember the political ax can swing both ways.