The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the Social Security program facing short- and long-term financing crises. President Reagan charged the National Commission on Social Security Reform, chaired by Alan Greenspan, with examining the future financial viability of the Social Security Act and with making recommendations to Congress.
Dissention among members of this bipartisan Committee escalated as Social Security’s finances began to deteriorate. Some members of the Commission believed that the impending crisis facing Social Security was blown out of proportion; others were divided about how to resolve various issues and deadlocked on matters such as recommending increasing taxes or reducing benefits. After missing its original deadline and forcing President Reagan to extend the life of the Commission, a compromise was reached that was supported by a majority of the members.
The Commission’s negotiations, however, did little to alter the stalemate in Congress that blocked passage of any bill during the remaining months of 1982. It was at this point that Senators Bob Dole and Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) stepped up to forge a bipartisan compromise that ultimately allowed passage of the Committee’s recommendations.
On January 3, 1983, after reading Dole’s article on Social Security in that morning’s New York Times, Moynihan approached Dole on the Senate floor. Together, the two veteran Senators led a last-ditch, bipartisan effort to break a legislative stalemate and save Social Security.
Among the Commissioners’ original recommendations were the taxation of Social Security benefits and increasing the retirement age for receiving full benefits. Meeting outside the halls of Congress, the so-called “Gang of Seven,” Dole, Moynihan, three other members of the Greenspan Commission and two Reagan advisors, came up with a timetable of payroll tax increases and spending reforms that legislators of both parties could accept. On April 20, 1983, an appreciative President Reagan signed the bill into law.
Dole proudly mentioned the reforms in his 1996 Republican Convention speech in which he accepted his party’s nomination for the Presidency. He pointed out,
“…and I have learned in my own life, from my own experience, that not every man, woman or child can make it on their own. And that in time of need, the bridge between failure and success can be the government itself. And given all that I have experienced, I shall always remember those in need. That is why I helped to save Social Security in 1983 and that is why I will be the president who preserves and strengthens and protects Medicare for America’s senior citizens.”
Read Reagan’s letter to Dole thanking him for joining the commission.
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