The political price tag for January pay raises for civil servants and retirees may be a one-year freeze on all within-grade (longevity step) increases for federal employes.

The White House- congressional team that is seeking a major budget compromise to cut the deficit had, as of late yesterday, tentatively agreed not to reduce or eliminate a proposed 3 percent raise for 1 million white-collar federal workers or the 4.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment due federal and military retirees.

But insiders say that if the compromise holds, it may be at the price of the longevity pay raises that are due nearly one-third of the work force in 1988. Those so-called in-grade raises are worth about 3 percent. They are based on time-in-grade and a satisfactory or equivalent job rating. About 99 percent of the employes who come due for the raises get them, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Employes in the first three steps of the GS grade get the so-called in-grade raises every year. Those in the next three steps come due for the raises every two years, and those in the next three steps of a grade get them every three years. Employes at the 10th or top step of their grade do not get the in-grade raises.

The savings from the in-grade freeze would amount to about $200 million a year.Health Plan Tips

Federal workers and retirees have until Dec. 11 to pick their 1988 health insurance plan. According to the experts, the typical family can save as much as $1,500 next year -- in premiums and out-of-pocket expenses -- by picking the proper plan. With more than 20 plans available to federal workers and retirees, finding the right one isn't easy. At 1 p.m. tomorrow on WNTR radio (1050 AM), Walton Francis of the Washington Consumers Checkbook will answer questions about the "best buys" rated by the magazine.

A series begins here Tuesday on best health plan buys for various groups of federal workers and retirees. Included are plans best for retirees, for dental coverages and for workers or dependents who may lose their health plan eligibility next year.

WJLA-TV (Channel 7) will have a call-in program Nov. 22 (a non-Redskins Sunday) on the insurance open season. Reporter John Spiropolous will talk to private and federal insurance experts and take calls from viewers seeking advice.Meetings

National Association of Retired Federal Employees President Steve Morrissey will speak at the Dec. 9 luncheon of the Gaithersburg chapter at the Sheraton-Potomac. Call 424-3323.

The National Association of Government Communicators will hold its Communicator of the Year luncheon Nov. 20 at the Rosslyn Westpark Hotel in Arlington.Layoffs Blocked

Bowing to pressure from Capitol Hill, the National Commission for Employment Policy has decided against a pre-Thanksgiving layoff of its half-dozen professional (career) staffers. The opposition to the reduction-in-force came from the AFL-CIO, Federal Government Services Task Force, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Brock Adams (D-Wash.), among others who claimed a pending NCEP reorganization was designed to replace civil servants with political appointees.