Gingrich would put off action on Social Security TAKING THE HILL: THE REPUBLICANS' FIRST HUNDRED DAYS

January 03, 1995|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The financing of Social Security may need a re-examination, but not right away, Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the incoming speaker of the House, said in an interview broadcast yesterday.

There was some political nerve in his comments. Even though Democrats have for decades accused Republicans of plotting to subvert Social Security, Mr. Gingrich rejected an invitation from the interviewer to agree that "you'll never touch it."

He said the immediate task that House Republicans have set themselves -- working toward a balanced budget -- could be accomplished without touching Social Security.

And he told the interviewer, Brian Lamb of C-Span, the public affairs cable television network, that it would be unwise to try to deal with the Social Security's own long-range financing problems until early in the next century. A delay is essential, he said, because the public does not trust "the current generation of politicians" to do it fairly.

"I think eventually you can re-examine Social Security, in six to eight years," he said. "But I think that the current generation of politicians does not have the moral standing, doesn't have the trust, to open up the largest trust fund and the largest social insurance program in the country. And I think if you'd try to do it, you'd just get into a brutal, nasty, mean fight, and you'd lose."

Social Security is likely to run short of money about the year 2029 without such changes as a higher contribution rate or delayed eligibility for benefits, but the timetable that he offered for an examination of the financing may result in Mr. Gingrich's leaving the problem for a later speaker.

He said earlier in the program that he would impose an eight-year term limit on how long he would serve as speaker. That is two years more than the limit House Republicans plan to impose on service as a committee chairman.

Mr. Gingrich said that limit "means I can focus on getting to a balanced budget within that cycle." The constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget, which Republicans intend to propose, would take effect early in the next century, with the exact deadline depending on when it was approved by the 38 states needed to ratify an amendment.

Mr. Gingrich, who wants to eliminate government funding for public television, promised yesterday to personally contribute $2,000 a year to support a privately funded network to house Big Bird and Barney.

Big Bird is a character on "Sesame Street," a popular children's show on public television, while Barney, an imaginary purple dinosaur, has his own show on public TV.

"I'm going to pledge that every year for the next five years I will give at least $2,000 . . . to a privately funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting," Mr. Gingrich said in the C-Span interview.

The 51-year-old Republican, who tomorrow begins his ninth term in Congress, said he did not think of the speaker's post as a lifetime job. "I'd rather say, 'Let's get this set of jobs done, get it over with, and then I'll go teach, I'll go write books or, you know, become a zoo keeper,' " he said.

The interview was conducted last Friday, in front of the tiger area at the Atlanta Zoo. At other points in the program Mr. Gingrich pointed out two rhinoceroses, Bo and Rosie, which he had donated to the zoo out of lecture fees he was forbidden by House rules to keep. And he showed off Komodo dragons, a type of lizard, that he had also given the zoo.

Mr. Gingrich insisted that the Republicans had not abolished the office of the House historian, as had been widely reported last week.

All they were doing, he said, was replacing the current historian. He said the new historian would try to work with academic groups to educate the public "on a totally nonpartisan basis" about how the Congress works.

While Mr. Gingrich said, "there will be an Historian's Office," his press secretary, Tony Blankley, explained last night that the existing office would be closed, and its workers dismissed.

Mr. Blankley said the functions of the historian would be transferred to the office of the Clerk of the House, and a new historian would be hired in that office.

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