The odds favoring a January pension increase for the nearly 400,000 federal and military retirees in the District, Maryland and Virginia are improving daily because of the Senate-House budget deadlock.
Earlier this year, it seemed likely that the civilian-military retirees (there are nearly 3 million worldwide) would have to wait until 1987 for their next cost-of-living adjustment. The retirees got a 3 1/2 percent COLA last January, their first pension adjustment in 18 months.
Both the White House and the Senate originally proposed a freeze next year on federal retirement benefits -- including Social Security, Civil Service and military pensions -- as part of a deficit-reduction package.
But because of the political heat generated by Social Security recipients (about 20 percent of the nation's population), the White House appears to have backed away from the COLA freeze plan it sold to a reluctant Senate.
The Senate voted -- by a very narrow margin -- a budget proposal that would freeze COLAs next year to help reduce the federal deficit by more than $20 billion. Most of the savings would come from skipping the Social Security increase, with the next biggest savings coming from the area of Civil Service-military pensions.
The House budget proposal requires greater cuts in Defense spending, but would allow the retirees adjustments next year.
Senate-House conferees go back to work on a budget compromise today but they are planning to recess again Friday. It appears that if they get any budget at all it will be one that does not freeze COLAs.
The raises are a big deal here, where civilian retiree checks alone contribute more than $150 million each month to the local economy.
Much of the media blitz concentrates on former members of Congress and high-level officials whose pension checks exceed, in some cases, the salaries of their old jobs. But they are a minority.
The average pension check for federal retirees living in the District is about $1,200 a month, and it is about $1,400 monthly for U.S. retirees in Maryland and Virginia. Those benefits are taxable and the retirees have to pay the same health insurance premiums as federal workers.
Many people getting retirement checks are the elderly survivors of deceased federal retirees. Some of them get as little as $300 a month. They don't like to be lumped in the same group as retired politicians whose pensions -- while enviable -- are not particularly representative of anything.