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Benefits Issue Casts Partisan Cloud Over Budget Debate

<i> From a Times Staff Writer</i>

House lawmakers began debate Wednesday on a controversial proposal to amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget and immediately sparred over whether the initiative would force deep cuts in Social Security benefits for the elderly.

Republicans, stung by Democratic charges that their support for the amendment would hasten Social Security cuts, quickly adopted a non-binding resolution declaring that future lawmakers shall not reduce Social Security disbursements in an effort to balance the budget.

While Democrats voted for the Republican resolution in overwhelmingly numbers, they disparaged it as “feel-good” legislation that offered senior citizens no guarantees that their benefits would not be raided. And they charged that Republicans were seeking a fig leaf to protect them from senior citizens’ organizations, many of which have withdrawn their support for a balanced-budget amendment because of concerns about Social Security cuts.

“It is a sham, it is a fraud, it is nothing!” Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said of the resolution. “You cannot hide behind this nonsensical piece of hooey.”

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Wisconsin Democrat Gerald D. Kleczka, brandishing a pickle on the House floor, declared that the Republican-backed measure would have the same force on future lawmakers as an earlier resolution declaring National Pickle Week.

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) has proposed a binding amendment, to be voted on later this week, which would prohibit the use of Social Security fund surpluses to balance the budget.

The Republicans have decried the Democrats’ warnings about Social Security cuts as scare tactics.


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