If the budget agreement before Congress is approved, federal-military retirees will get a minimum 4.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment and federal workers will get a 3.5 percent raise in January.

At one point, conferees talked of a federal pension freeze. But they dropped that idea under an avalanche of protest. The pay raise proposed by the president in August never was at issue in the budget talks.

The controversial budget proposal does eliminate the lump-sum pension payment option for federal retirees. It appears to give workers until the end of the month to retire and be eligible for the option. But Congress has not yet set a deadline.

The budget agreement has a way to go. This is where it is, and what must happen before it becomes law:

The government is running on a continuing resolution that expires Friday. The resolution holds off automatic cuts and could mean a government shutdown or furloughs or both. Congress must pass a budget resolution with detailed instructions to committees to approve legislation within their jurisdiction that implements the summit agreements.

Congress is expected to pass a second continuing resolution suspending sequestration (automatic cuts) and furloughs through Oct. 19. The president will sign it only if action on the budget resolution has been completed.

Congress must vote by Oct. 19 on a conference report that reflects the summit agreements and conference reports on all 13 pending appropriations bills. The president has said no bill extending the ban on automatic spending cuts beyond Oct. 19 will be signed unless Congress approves those reports.

Congress-watchers caution that nothing in the budget summit agreement is official until it is signed into law. The agreement could be delayed -- or it could fall apart. If that happened, there could be shutdowns and furloughs, and the summit group would have to search for new spending cuts that would get through Congress. Lump-Sum Deadline

The summit agreement eliminates the lump-sum pension option for retirees effective next month. But Congress hasn't officially set a deadline for retiring. That leaves workers who want to cash in on the benefit in a bind. Nothing will be official on the deadline date until Congress says what it intended and the agreement becomes law.

An Office of Personnel Management official said yesterday that "the apparent congressional intent is to give people one month {October} to make a retirement decision." OPM assumes this means workers could retire as late as Oct. 31 and be eligible for the benefit. But OPM cautions that nothing is solid or official until Congress says what it meant. HMO Update

Premiums for the Virginia-based Physicians CareFirst health maintenance organization will drop next year for U.S. workers. The single option will be $20.04 per pay period, a drop of $2.55. The family option will be $62.69, down $4.58.