Politicians who fear that pre-election cuts in Defense Department jobs could mean unemployment for them as well as their constituents are busy working on bills to delay or soften the impact of layoffs.

Dozens of members of Congress are sponsoring -- or planning -- bills that would encourage senior Army, Navy and Air Force civilians to retire early to spare the jobs of younger workers who are most vulnerable during layoffs.

More than 91,000 people here, about one-fourth of the metropolitan area's total

federal civilian workforce,

work for Defense Department establishments. Some of these workers could lose their jobs as the Army, Navy and Air Force cut back bases and trim headquarters and support operations.

The latest House member to join the Defense job jitters club is Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (D-Pa.). He's introduced a job placement and retraining bill that would also let laid-off employees keep their low-cost government health insurance for six months. His plan would make it possible for low-income workers to keep all-important health insurance that they otherwise couldn't afford or qualify for while unemployed.

Kanjorski is chairman of the human resources subcommittee of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee. It's expected to clear his bill next month.

Normally, federal workers who are laid off can keep their federal health insurance for six months. But they must pay the full premium. Currently, most employees pay about 40 percent of the total premium, with the government paying the rest. Under Kanjorski's bill the government would continue to pay its share of the premium for six months. Social Security

Most federal workers qualify for Social Security based either on their own private-sector employment or as the spouse of someone entitled to a Social Security benefit. But when they go to collect benefits, many government retirees don't get what they expected. For many, their own Social Security benefits are reduced by the Windfall Benefits Reduction Act. For others, the Social Security benefit they anticipated is reduced or eliminated because they are receiving a federal pension. Although both laws have been in effect for years, many government workers and retirees don't learn about them until they get their first Social Security check.

Tomorrow at noon on radio station WNTR (1050 AM), Fran Valentine of the Social Security Administration will talk about Social Security in general and the impact of the windfall and public pension offset laws. Early Retirement

Special early-retirement authority is expected to be okayed this weekend for a couple of Defense Department units. For an update on the early-outs, check this space Sunday. Job Mart

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Rockville needs a Grade 7 through 12 staff accountant. Call 443-8795.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has openings for a GS 5 through 7 secretary (typing) and a GS 11 through 13 attorney adviser. Call Keith Ross at 254-3275.