2 senators unveil plan to limit retiree COLAs


WASHINGTON -- Just when it appeared that cost of living adjustments for federal retirees might be safe from government budget cutters, two senators have unveiled a plan to limit them.

Earlier this month, the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee fought off a proposed cut in the COLA that would have reduced pensions about 10 percent.

But a proposal introduced last week by Sens. David Boren, D-Okla., and John Danforth, R-Mo., would cut the COLA on the amount of each pension that exceeds $600 a month.

The adjustment to the first $600 would remain unchanged -- it would equal the consumer price index (CPI), which measures inflation. But any amount of the pension above $600 would be adjusted at a level of CPI minus 2 percent.

Mr. Boren and Mr. Danforth want to use this formula for five years, from fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 1998, for a savings of $23 billion.

The plan would reduce the pensions of 85.2 percent of civilian federal retirees, since that many receive annuities of more than $600 a month, said Bob Normandie of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees.

The proposed cap would apply to retirees who receive pensions from Social Security, the civil service and the armed forces.

Federal retirees will take "more than twice the hit the Social Security beneficiary takes," Mr. Normandie said, because the average federal civilian annuity is $1,371 a month and the average Social Security payment is $653.

The full House of Representatives is to vote tomorrow on the fiscal year 1994 budget, including the civil service committee provisions. Some House Democrats are reportedly balking at the budget because it contains an unpopular energy tax that Mr. Boren and other senators are trying to kill.

House members don't want to be on record voting for the energy tax if it is destined to die in the Senate anyway.

"It looks to me like it's basically Big Oil against the old people; it's a tough one," said a congressional staffer who deals with federal worker issues.

Lobbyists for NARFE are out in force on Capitol Hill and its members from around the country are making their feelings known to lawmakers, said another NARFE staffer.

Tomorrow's House vote will be postponed if the Democratic leadership is not certain of a victory, but an aide to the leadership said the vote probably will go forward as scheduled, and the budget is expected to pass. The House is under pressure to wrap things up tomorrow so members can spend a long Memorial Day weekend in their districts, the aide said.

The Boren plan, which would shift the ratio of tax increases and spending cuts to 1:2, in contrast to the Clinton administration's 1:1, has at least tentative support from several senators, but its future is uncertain. Some Democratic senators want to remain loyal to President Clinton, while lawmakers from farm and fuel-producing states fear the political consequences of backing the energy tax.

The issue is not simply one of conservatives against liberals. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, probably will not support the Boren plan because he "doesn't like that it's hitting the seniors," said his spokesman, Paul Smith.

SICK LEAVE -- The Office of Personnel Management has proposed a rule that would let employees use three days of sick leave each year to care for an infirm family member or make funeral arrangements.

Employees could use sick leave to "provide care for a child, spouse, or parent as a result of sickness, injury, pregnancy, or childbirth; and make arrangements necessitated by the death of a child, spouse, or parent," according to a notice in the Federal Register.

The proposal also would allow people who return to federal employment after a period of three years to retain any sick leave they accrued during their earlier employment with the government.

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