Lawmakers moved Thursday to insulate Social Security from future budget-cutting efforts, even as Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler warned that attempts to strip her of control over the system would create as much confusion as the breakup of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
In a 79-20 vote, the Senate ordered the drafting of a bill that would ban raids on the Social Security trust fund designed to reduce the bloated federal budget deficit.
Meanwhile, a House Ways and Means subcommittee unanimously endorsed its own bill to isolate Social Security money from the rest of the federal budget. In addition, it would take the system out of Heckler’s department.
In a letter to a member of the House panel, Heckler expressed her strong opposition to the establishment of an independent Social Security agency, arguing that such a “divestiture” would raise administrative costs and create a bureaucratic nightmare.
The vast Social Security system, she argued, is “inextricably linked” with the Medicare program, run by her department, through shared record-keeping, data processing and other vital facilities.
“To remedy a system that does not need repair is a waste of time and taxpayer monies,” Heckler wrote. “I believe this situation is comparable to the good intentions behind the divestiture of AT&T.;”
Although she said she spoke for the Administration, Heckler’s views appeared to put her at odds with President Reagan. Only last month, he told a news conference that he favored a speedup in the implementation of a 1983 law that would remove the Social Security trust fund from the federal budget by the fall of 1992.
Republican Plans Rejected
Reagan made the statement after rejecting Republican plans to include a temporary Social Security freeze as part of an overall budget-cutting package. He contended that budget planners had for years relied on multibillion-dollar surpluses in the trust fund to jockey their ledgers and mask the true size of the bulging federal budget deficit.
“To continue to say that this could somehow reduce the deficit by reducing Social Security benefits is a snare and a delusion, and that’s why I believe that we shouldn’t even wait till 1992, when it is slated to be taken out of the budget and made a separate program,” Reagan has said.
Although the Senate action would not remove Social Security from the Health and Human Services Department, the chamber voted 79 to 20 to endorse the idea of separating the Social Security budget from that of the rest of the government. However, there will not be a final vote on the matter until November at the earliest.