When the White House and Congress announced their budget-cutting plan to trim the number of cost-of-living raises for U.S. retirees earlier this year, everybody said the annuitants could kiss one of their twice-yearly adjustments goodby. The House wanted to chop the September COL adjustment. The Senate voted to kill off the March increase. The White House said either would do, but one of them had to go.

But the COL cutback forces had not counted on the lobbying power of federal and military retirees and the government unions. In a few short months the groups, led by the National Association of Retired Federal Employes, tied Congress in knots and managed to save the recent September COL (a 7.7 percent raise). Now it appears that Senate-House budget conferees also will scrub plans to drop the March 1981 raise when they return next month after the elections.

The development that apparently caught the White House and the Senate and House Budget Committees by surprise culminates one of the major lobbying efforts of the year.

If you are interested in the in-depth story of the rise and fall of the COL cutback, get a copy of this week's National Journal. Writer Timothy B. Clark tells how the retiree lobbyists accomplished a "mission impossible," and instilled in members of Congress new respect for federal retirees.

Clark says the COL reversal shows how tough it is to cut federal benefits in an election year, and also "brought to the surface the deep-seated hostility of many members of Congress" to the new budget process.