Congress and the Reagan administration are using a little bit of legislative double talk to keep several million very vocal govenment retirees calm while some of their benefits are being quietly, very quietly, chopped away.

Item: Newspapers last week reported that the Senate Budget Committee, bowing to President Reagan, had decided not to trim the cost-of-living benefits of federal, postal and military retirees. That seemed simple enough. Concluded that the president and the Congress would not make any changes in the system that gives U.S. retirees inflation catch-ups every six months. That, folks, is what they wanted you to believe! It isn't what happened.

What happened is that the Senate Budget Committee, at Reagan's request, decided not be change the computation system used to arrive at the consumer price index.The CPI is the system used to measure the cost of living, and many benefits, including those for federal-military retirees, are linked to it. The committee did not change the CPI system. But it did make a major change that it didn't exactly advertise.

What the committee did was approve a Reagan proposal to eliminate one of the two COL raises retirees get each year. If allowed to stand it would mean that retirees would get an inflation-adjustment every 12 months, instead of every six months. But that part wasn't made clear. On purpose.

Some officials of the Reagan administration -- who knows, maybe the president himself -- are embarrassed about White House plans to reduce the frequency of COL raises. Maybe because Reagan, before the election, promised the 400,000 member National Association of Retired Federal Employees that he would not tamper with their COL system. He made that promise in writing. And his campaign aides, anxious to have retirees in their corner, implied that Jimmy Carter and John Anderson, both of whom favored one COL per year for retirees, were heartless, dirty dogs. Shortly after he became president, Reagan announced that he would ask Congress to do what Carter and Anderson were proposing, and what he had said he would not do.

So this is where it stands. The Senate Budget Committee HAS (as reported here Friday) approved a resolution calling for a cutback in the frequency of retiree COL raises, from two to one a year. They have not changed the consumer price index, but they most definitely have proposed a single annual COL. When you read that the Congress and the administration aren't tampering with retirees raises, read between the lines.