Althogh it is too early to talk about a budget stalemate, Senate and House conferees continue to be deadlocked on the issue of cost-of-living raises for retirees drawing Social security, civil service or military pensions.
Waiting for the results are nearly 2 million retired federal workers whose pensions average less than $12,000 a year.
Congress is trying to come up with a compromise budget that will make a start toward trimming the deficit and, at the same time, serve as a three-year blueprint for cutting federal spending. Both sides agree that cuts are in order, but can't agree where to cut.
The Senate proposes to skip the increases that recipients of Social Security and federal and military retirement benefits are due to get next January. Depending on the rise in inflation, it could be in the neighborhood of 4 percent, and would prove very useful to many U.S. retirees who are already living at the poverty level.
The House wants to allow the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) and make the savings in other federal programs, such as cutting back defense spending and slowing the trend toward having private contractors do government work.
Federal union lobbyists who have been watching the budget conference say that neither side appears willing to compromise over the pension issue. Both the Senate and House have already agreed to stabilize the federal payroll, which totals $1.3 billion a month here, by freezing federal pay until 1987.
"Normally, by this time in the budget process the posturing is all out of the way, and the conferees settle down to work," a congressional aide said yesterday. "What we are seeing is both sides locked firmly into position on the COLA issue."
If there is a budget deadlock, President Reagan could still cancel the federal pay raise, technically due in October, by submitting an alternate pay plan to Congress. He could do it despite the fact that data being prepared by the government will indicate that, to bring their pay up to industry levels, federal workers are due increases of about 12 percent.
Since both the Senate and House have already approved a 1986 pay freeze, it is unlikely that they would vote to override a presidential recommendation that would have the same effect.
The fate of the pension increases, should the budget compromise fall apart, is less certain. The COLA adjustment by law is due to go into effect in December and first show up in checks in January.
If Congress fails to block the COLA increases as part of a compromise budget, it is unlikely that the Democratic House, anxious to make Republicans look like ogres to senior citizens, would vote to kill the raises as part of a separate legislative package.