Federal and military retirees yesterday lost the first battle (and probably the entire war) in their effort to regain a $1 billion cost-of-living adjustment denied them in January.
Reps. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), Michael Barnes (D-Md.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), among others, had gone to the Rules Committee asking that it allow an amendment to exempt the January COLA freeze from a new package of cuts to be voted on by the House. The House has already overwhelmingly approved a resolution by Oakar and Fazio to protect next January's COLA from any budget cuts.
However, the four legislators lost a vote on the amendment Wednesday evening, and yesterday the House voted 343 to 68 to reaffirm previous budget cuts, including the COLA freeze. The House leadership, anxious to protect spending cuts already ordered or taken, wanted the package passed quickly and without amendment.
The Senate is expected to approve a similar reaffirmation of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts. That would continue the 1986 COLA freeze.
But while that COLA (worth $30 a month to the typical retiree) is probably gone for good, there is reason to believe future inflation adjustments will be spared from budgetary cuts.
The retirees, including 100,000 here, got a 3.1 percent raise in December. But it was canceled within days, the first victim of the Gramm- Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction law.
Most retirees were bitter, especially because Congress gave the raises to people receiving Social Security. But this wasn't the first time they were singled out for special economic sacrifices, so most accepted it.
However, hopes of regaining the "lost" COLA were revived when the Supreme Court shot down parts of the Gramm- Rudman-Hollings law. That in turn induced a short-lived euphoria among groups who felt that the amendment was the worst thing that had hit Washington since 1814, when the British torched the town.
Backers of the COLA thought they could win its restoration if they could separate it from spending cuts Congress was required to reaffirm because of the court decision.
Now, attempts to recapture part of the COLA raise are being made by the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees. The two unions have gone to court asking for a payment of at least a portion of the COLA, those amounts due from January until whenever Congress reaffirms the cuts.
Though the 1986 raise seems dead, Congress still appears willing to exempt future increases for federal-military retirees from the next round of budget cuts.
There are two reasons for this optimism:
First, inflation is low this year, meaning that any January 1987 adjustment would be modest and relatively inexpensive.
Second, the president has promised to support legislation that would give Social Security recipients raises even if there were no increase in living costs. That bill, which few members would dare vote against, would be an ideal place for an amendment protecting pension increases for federal-military retirees. Job Mart
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