Social Security cut floated by Clinton called 'death wish' Moynihan, others in Congress are critical of idea

February 01, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Deficit-reduction proposals being discussed by the Clinton administration, especially those curtailing Social Security benefits, are finding plenty of congressional critics.

A senior Treasury official said yesterday that the administration will propose reductions in the rate of growth of Social Security benefits, but the Senate's chief tax writer, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., said that freezing the benefits would be a political "death wish."

Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Roger Altman said in a television interview aired yesterday that eliminating the annual cost-of-living raise in Social Security payments is under consideration as the White House puts together its economic plan.

"That's a death wish, and let's get it out of the way and forget it right now," said Mr. Moynihan, new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in a separate television interview yesterday.

The comments came as Mr. Clinton and members of his Cabinet met at the presidential Maryland retreat at Camp David to discuss components of an economic package that he will submit to Congress Feb. 17 in his State of the Union message.

"We spent a lot of time talking about it," Mr. Clinton said as he returned to the White House yesterday. He made no other comment.

Mr. Altman, a close friend of the president and one of Mr. Clinton's top economic advisers during the presidential campaign, said the administration would advocate restraints on the growth of Medicare, Medicaid, welfare payments and Social Security outlays as part of its efforts to reduce the federal deficit.

"We all know it's eating the federal budget like a termite, and that has to be dealt with and that will be dealt with in this [economic] program," Mr. Altman said on NBC's "One on One with John McLaughlin."

About 30 million Americans now receive Social Security retirement benefits averaging $650 a month. The most recent cost-of-living increase to offset 1992 inflation -- 3.2 percent -- amounted to about $19 a month for the average recipient.

Surprisingly, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," said he favors a reduction of 1 or 2 percentage points in cost-of-living payments to all Social Security recipients rather than higher taxes on relatively well-off retirees.

"In my view, that might be the better way to go," Mr. Dole said, recalling that Congress delayed a cost-of-living adjustment in 1985 for six months. "It's a tough call."

Mr. Moynihan said he was willing to discuss other politically unpalatable tax ideas, such as limiting home mortgage deductions or taxing employer-paid health insurance.

He stopped well short of saying he would push for any of them when asked about about those proposals on "This Week With David Brinkley."

Some leading Republicans, however, said they wanted to see primary emphasis on reduction in government spending rather than new taxes as debate intensifies over how to lower the federal budget deficit.

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