NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Congress Should Guarantee Social Security Benefits

January 6, 1999

This week the 106th Congress convenes. On the first day hundreds of bills will be introduced, but only a few will have any real chance of passage. One way that the leadership signals which legislation it intends to push is by giving important bills a low number, such as H.R. 1, the first bill introduced in the House of Representatives.

For instance, in the last Congress, H.R. 1 was the Working Families Flexibility Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.) to allow workers to take compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay, something that is now prohibited by law.

Now Republican leaders have to decide what H.R. 1 will be in the new Congress. Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), who had been tapped to be Speaker of the House, had intended H.R. 1 to be a bill to protect Social Security by removing the trust fund from budget calculations. With his withdrawal it is not known whether this will remain the top legislative priority. Livingston's replacement, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), has not indicated what his priorities are.

Republicans should make Social Security reform their top priority, but Livingston's approach was flawed. It would only have made it harder to cut taxes without doing anything to meaningfully reform Social Security. A better approach would be to pass a law saying that under no circumstances will any changes in the Social Security system affect the benefits of any current retiree.

Guaranteeing their benefits would remove the single greatest obstacle to reform -- seniors' fear of benefit cuts. Such a bill should be H.R. 1 in the 106th Congress.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, January 6, 1999.


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