The House begins debate today on a budget that will determine how big a pay raise (if any) this town's 300,000 white-collar civil servants will get this year. It also will decide what to do about the area's 100,000 government retirees, who are expecting a cost-of-living catch-up next March.
There will be three budgets before the House. They are:
* The original budget submitted by President Reagan, which provides for a 5 percent white-collar federal pay raise this October, and a March 1983 annuity increase for retirees. The latter would be equal to the percentage raise federal employes get this year, or the rise in the Consumer Price Index for 1982, whichever is lower.
* The Democratic substitute (called the Jones budget), which would give the nation's 1 million white-collar federal civil servants a 5 percent raise this October, and let retirees get a full catch-up-with-inflation increase in March.
* The Republican substitute (called the Latta budget), which would give federal workers 4 percent this October and let retirees get a full catch-up-with-inflation raise in March.
House leaders have scheduled five hours of debate on the budget proposals. The first two will be devoted to the president's original plan, with the Jones and Latta substitutes getting 1 1/2 hours each.
Democratic and Republican legislators from the metropolitan Washington area are responsible for persuading their respective parties to include any kind of pay raise in the budgets. Republican Reps. Frank Wolf and Stan Parris of Virginia and Marjorie Holt of Maryland persuaded their colleagues on the Budget Committee to put in a federal pay boost, as did Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer and Mike Barnes on their side of the aisle.
Considering the anti-federal-worker-mood of this economy-minded Congress, it is a small miracle that any federal pay raise is being considered at all this year.
When and if the House reaches agreement on a budget, it will have to go to conference with the Senate which has taken a no-nonsense approach to government types.
The budget cleared by the Republican-dominated Senate calls for a zero pay raise this year for federal workers (with a 4 percent raise in October 1983 and again in October 1984). The Senate budget also would delay the March 1983 COL raise for retirees, and limit them to a 4 percent increase in March 1984 and March 1985.