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Democrats Firm on Social Security Cuts : House Members Back Cost-of-Living Hikes 4 to 1, O’Neill Says

From Times Wire Services

House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. said today that House Democrats overwhelmingly favor preserving Social Security cost-of-living payments intact next year, though they refused to put the issue to an official vote.

“I’ll have to say the Democrats are opposed 4 to 1 to cutting the COLAs,” O’Neill told reporters after the closed-door Democratic caucus called to discuss the divisive budget issue. COLA stands for cost-of-living adjustment, a payment to retired people based on inflation.

Democrats on the Budget Committee were looking to the private meeting of all House Democrats to give them guidance as they try to draft a budget position. Committee Democrats met late into the night Monday but had not settled the Social Security issue. The Republican-led Senate last week voted to freeze Social Security payments to 36 million recipients, denying a scheduled cost-of-living increase.

O’Neill (D-Mass.) said the sentiment against canceling the cost-of-living increases was so strong that it was not necessary to take a vote on preserving them and that a vote might cause “some embarrassment” for some members.

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But conservative Rep. Buddy Roemer (D-La.) said there was some feeling among Democrats in the private meeting that the economic situation with the huge federal budget deficit requires sacrifice from all parts of the nation, including Social Security recipients.

Gray Agrees With Speaker

Budget Committee Chairman William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) noted that the “Speaker’s assessment (on Social Security) is correct” and indicated that Democrats on his committee will not curtail the pension program.

Democrats considered a resolution from Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) that would require that the budget “not include any reduction in Social Security benefits, including any reduction, freeze or delay in the automatic cost-of-living adjustment due under current law.”

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The caucus action came as Democrats on the Budget Committee neared agreement on a plan to cut federal spending by $54 billion next year while keeping Social Security cost-of-living increases intact, sources said today.

These sources, who asked not to be identified, said the Democrats were hoping to complete work on the budget blueprint later in the day, then use their majority muscle to force committee approval Wednesday or Thursday--perhaps in a rare, closed-door session.


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