A House committee voted yesterday to close as many as 10,000 post offices but give federal workers a larger pay raise -- 5.45 percent -- this year than President Reagan has proposed as congressional committees scrambled to meet Friday's deadline for cutting more than $35 billion from the budget for next year.
In actions touching everything from agriculture to the Zip Code, committees sought to salvage what they could from favored programs while complying with Reagan's requests, which Congress itself has endorsed, for spending cuts in virtually every part of the budget save defense.
Among the main actions:
The House Banking Committee rejected a Senate proposal to curtail housing aid to the District of Columbia, New York and other cities that practice rent control, while coming up with about $14 billion worth of cuts in spending authority for programs covering housing and financial institutions. iThe rent control issue will now apparently have to be resolved in a Senate-House conference.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to lop $1 million off the $13 million budget of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission after Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) threatened a filibuster to beat back a proposal to wipe out the commission entirely.
The Republican majority on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee tentatively resolved its month-long impasse over Reagan's proposal to merge many separate health, education and social service programs into block grants to the states. The compromise reportedly exempts some larger programs like aid to poor and handicapped schoolchildren from the block grants, thereby protecting them from competition with other programs at the state and local levels.
The House Agriculture Committee settled on a farm bill that will cut outlays by $2.5 billion next year, with about 80 percent of this to be achieved by reducing food stamp spending and price support payments to dairy farmers.
But it was the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee that struck what may be the most sensitive chord in Washington and thousands of neighborhoods across the country.
To help meet its target of $5.1 billion in cuts, the committee proposed saving $3.4 billion by holding the federal pay raise for next year to 5.45 percent. This is more than the 4.8 percent recommended by Reagan but still 8 percentage points less than federal workers would receive under the principle of comparability, according to which their pay is supposed to be kept comparable to compensation in private enterprise.
The committee also proposed saving $740 million by eliminating a so-called "double dip" under which retired military people take civilian jobs with the federal government and draw both full pension and salary; their salary would be reduced by the amount of their pension. Another $50 million would be saved by cutting extra military pay for federal workers while on summer National Guard duty.
From the postal side of its responsibilities the committee voted to direct the postmaster general to save $100 million over the next three years by closing or consolidating up to 10,000 of the country's smallest post offices. He would draft a comprehensive shutdown plan and submit it to Congress, which would have 60 days in which to veto it.
To save another $20 million the committee proposal delaying implementation of the controversial proposal to add four digits to the Zip Code until after 1983.
So politically painful were many of the committee's proposals -- and so reluctant was the committee to make them -- that its Democratic majority also voted to recommend that the House reject them.
The Post Office Committee is one of many that are acting grudgingly, under instructions to cut that were included in the budget targets approved last month by Congress under pressure from the Reagan administration.
The targets simply spelled out lump-sum quotas for the committees, leaving each of them to decide what programs to cut to achieve the economies. When the committees are finished, the budget committees of both houses will package their work into one bill, presumably totaling $35 billion in savings.
Under a suggestion from House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), some committees in the Democratic-controlled House are drafting the cuts and then urging the House to reject them. This brings them into technical compliance with the so-called "reconciliation," or spending cut, instructions but also helps build pressure for amendments on the House floor to restore at least some of the threatened funds.
Post Office and Civil Service Chairman William D. Ford (D-Mich.) complained that the reconciliation process was "the most painful" experience of his 17 years in Congress, and added: "I don't think any of these cuts are warranted. We just don't have any choice. These are unfortunate cuts and probably not sound public policy."
Moreover, Ford said, they will probably lead to "substantial" increases in rates for subsidized mail such as reading matter.
Painful as the exercise might have been, the committee refused to invite even greater pain by recommending that federal retirees lose one of their two annual cost-of-living pension increases. That was tried last year and encountered such a hostile reaction that it died on the House floor.
In the House Banking Committee, the Democratic majority -- largely for reasons of strategy -- folded legislation to reauthorize the nation's housing programs into the budget cut package. This was done to strengthen the committee's hand in dealing with amendments on the House floor and with the Republican-dominated Senate when the bill comes to conference.
The Senate last week approved the housing reauthorization as a separate bill, including both the rent control provision and Reagan proposals to restrain future growth of subsidized housing and loosening federal controls over how community development money is spent. But there were efforts yesterday in the Senate to put the housing bill into the budget cut package so the Reagan proposals for housing law changes can be ironed out in conference rather than getting lost in the shuffle.