Federal workers and retirees who are counting on the Democratic-controlled House to protect their salaries and pensions from $22 billion in cuts proposed by the Republican Senate would not have enjoyed yesterday's closed-door meeting of the House Democratic caucus.
The session was intended to come up with a Democratic consensus on what to do about the budget. But it ended, according to sources in attendance, without the hoped-for agreement. The reason: A number of caucus members now favor some kind of cutback in federal retirement program costs.
The Senate has tentatively adopted a budget that would freeze federal pay and pensions next year. It would also require U.S. workers, who now contribute 7 percent of their salaries toward retirement, to begin paying 9 percent in 1987.
Overall, the deficit-reduction budget proposed by the Senate would cut about $22 billion from federal pay, retirement and other Civil Service related programs over the next three years.
That Senate budget must still be approved by various committees, then go back to the Senate for a final vote. But it is a document that is tough on civil servants.
Postal and federal union lobbyists hope the budget House Democrats approve will treat U.S. workers and retirees more gently. And the lobbyists hope the House will reject the Senate plan to cancel 1986 cost-of-living adjustments for persons drawing Social Security or federal or military retirement benefits.
The idea is to let the Republicans take the political heat from retirees, and make the Democrats appear to be champions.
But at yesterday's caucus, a number of Democrats expressed the belief that they should take some kind of deficit-cutting action as well.
They proposed either applying a means test to COLAs (limiting raises to a portion of the annuity or Social Security check), providing only partial inflation protection for retirees, or going along with the Republican plan for a freeze.
Reps. William Ford (D-Mich.) and Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) said that because of pay freezes and retirement benefit changes, federal workers and retirees have suffered more than $40 billion in cuts since 1978.
Out of compassion and for political reasons, Democratic leaders hope to convince their colleagues to oppose any freeze or change in retirement benefits.
"But from what we saw yesterday," one participant said, "the leadership has a lot of work to do."
The House hopes to complete action on its version of the budget sometime next month. Then the budget issue will go to a Senate-House conference, where a compromise will be worked out on all proposals, ranging from defense and welfare spending to Social Security and Civil Service items.