The decision on which federal personnel programs will be trimmed to meet a proposed two-year, $1.7 billion compromise budget package may hinge not so much on how much those cuts would save as on whether they would be "scored" as savings under ground rules of the emergency plan.
In an attempt to head off across-the-board budget cuts and revive the sagging stock market, congressional leaders and the White House have tentatively agreed on a package of specific reductions, with $1.7 billion in savings assigned to civil service programs.
Numerous options -- some serious, some frivolous -- are being considered for the fiscal 1989 reductions.
It is up to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee (working with its Post Office-Civil Service counterpart in the House) to decide how those cuts are achieved. The Senate committee is to report its recommendations today to the Senate Budget Committee, but those recommendations could be delayed until tomorrow.
Finding cuts is complicated because under rules established by the earlier White House-Congress budget summit, some reductions would not be scored as cuts even though they reduced outlays.
For example, one plan would freeze for one year all within-grade (seniority) raises due government workers. That would save an estimated $400 million, but concerns have been raised that those savings would not count under terms of the budget agreement since funds would remain in agency accounts for salaries and expenses. If that is the case, insiders say, it would be pointless and unfair to deny raises to the 400,000 federal workers. Other options also must be examined to see if they would score as cuts.
Also being considered is a White House plan to give retirees only half the lump-sum pension payments they can now receive. Currently, retirees can elect lump-sum pension payments equal to all the money they put in the retirement fund. But since three months of this fiscal year are gone, congressional Democrats, who oppose cutting lump-sum payments, argue that the savings would not be worth much, even if they were scored as cuts.
The Senate committee also could propose that the U.S. Postal Service -- the government's biggest agency -- be required to pay the full cost of the multimillion-dollar cost-of-living adjustment due its retirees next month, as well as future COLA costs. That could force the U.S. Postal Service to ask for a bigger rise in stamp prices next year.
All retired federal workers, military retirees and persons under Social Security are due the 4.2 percent January COLA. But a plan that may be offered the Senate next week would cut those raises in half for all retirees. The plan, by Sens. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) would mean that retirees would get approximately the same percentage raise in January as federal white-collar workers who are targeted for a 2 percent increase.
Another possibility in the murky budget proposal would be to delay a second 1988 pay raise -- a 2 percent adjustment due next October -- until January 1989, and to exclude members of Congress and top-paid government executives from the January 1988 raise.