Conference Report in Senate on H.R. 4277

[Congressional Record: August 5, 1994]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []


  Mr. MOYNIHAN. Mr. President, I submit a report of the committee of 
conference on H.R. 4277 and ask for its immediate consideration.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The report will be stated.
  The legislative clerk read as follows:

       The committee on conference on the disagreeing votes of the 
     two Houses on the amendment of the Senate to the bill (H.R. 
     4277), a bill to establish the Social Security Administration 
     as an independent agency and to make other improvements in 
     the old-age, survivors, and disability insurance program, 
     having met, after full and free conference, have agreed to 
     recommend and do recommend to their respective Houses this 
     report, signed by all of the conferees.

  (The conference report is printed in the House proceedings of the 
Record of August 4, 1994.)
  Mr. MOYNIHAN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate 
proceed to the consideration of the conference report on H.R. 4277, a 
bill to establish the Social Security Administration as an independent 
agency; that the conference report be agreed to, the motion to 
reconsider be laid upon the table; and that any statements thereon 
appear in the Record at the appropriate place as though read.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  So the conference report was agreed to.

                         Privilege of the Floor

  Mr. MOYNIHAN. Mr. President, I also ask unanimous consent, and the 
courtesy of the Senate, to allow Mr. Webster Phillips, who is an 
employee of the Social Security Administration, to be granted privilege 
of the floor. He has worked heroically in this matter for the longest 
while, and it would be a personal favor if this might be done.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. MOYNIHAN. Mr. President, today the Senate completes action on 
legislation of historic importance which removes the Social Security 
Administration from the Department of Health and Human Services and 
reestablishes it as an independent agency in the executive branch of 
the Government.
  We do so serendipitously on a date that falls within 4 days of the 
date--August 9, 1935--when the Senate voted by voice vote to pass the 
conference report on the original Social Security Act.
  With the conference report before us today, we increase the stature 
of the Social Security Administration, strengthen its leadership and 
establish a bipartisan advisory board. These measures will strengthen 
the administration of Social Security and we confidently believe 
increase public confidence in the program.
  The conference report also includes provisions proposed by Senator 
Cohen and Senator Dole that require the Social Security Administration 
to establish procedures for more responsible payment of benefits to 
disabled drug addicts and alcoholics. Beginning 6 months after 
enactment, Social Security will be required to pay these disability 
benefits to a representative payee rather than directly to the 
individual involved.
  Making the Social Security Administration an independent agency is 
not a new notion. It began as such in 1935, only gradually to be folded 
into a succession of Government agencies and, in the end, losing its 
identity almost entirely within the Federal Government.
  In 1980, the National Commission on Social Security, which was 
appointed by President Carter, and in 1983, the National Commission on 
Social Security Reform which was appointed by President Reagan and the 
Congress recommended that the Social Security Administration should be 
established as an independent agency.
  Congress, with Senator Dole very much involved, and the Senator from 
New York, in 1983 commissioned a study for the best form of governance 
for an independent Social Security Administration.
  In 1984, the following year, this panel, which was headed by the 
distinguished former Comptroller General of the United States, Elmer 
Staats, recommended that an independent Social Security Administration 
be led by a single executive who would be advised by a bipartisan 
advisory board. The conference report before us follows those 
  It has taken us a decade, Mr. President, and the reasons are clear 
enough. In 1977, the Social Security amendments of that year put the 
trust funds on a partially funded basis such that an enormous surplus 
would be built up, anticipating the retirement of the persons born in 
the decades after World War II.
  To give you a sense of the magnitude involved, the surplus would buy 
the New York Stock Exchange, a fact which the Office of Management and 
Budget did not fail to notice. It began in effect using Social Security 
trust fund surpluses as general revenue. The specifics are that they 
can only be used to purchase Federal Government bonds, special bonds 
which cannot ever fall below the par value. But in reality had we gone 
to a balanced budget situation, a balanced operating budget in the 
1980's, this surplus would have been used to buy down the privately 
held debt of the United States, and the consequences would have been an 
increase in private investment. We could have doubled the rate of 
savings in the 1980's had we done what was possible but which was not 
  Further, the ability of the Social Security Administration to carry 
out its functions was severely limited by budget constraints--cuts in 
staffing levels, cuts in the basic services.
  There is a fine editorial which appeared just recently in the 
Rochester Times-Union on this subject, on customer service at Social 
Security. It reads, if I may:

       Did you ever try to get a call through to the SSA? Or get a 
     new card? Or find out how much you have paid into the system? 
     Or get an estimate of your retirement benefits? This is 
     pretty basic stuff, but it's easy for an organization out of 
     the public line of fire to forget even the basics.

  It goes on to note that our current Commissioner, our very able 
Commissioner, Shirley Chater, is the 12th Commissioner of Social 
Security in the last 17 years. There has been no continuity. There has 
been no executive energy. And the results have shown a startling 
decline in public confidence.
  We have reached the point, Mr. President, where the Employee Benefit 
Research Institute, which does regular Gallup Polls on this matter, in 
February found only 30 percent of respondents had confidence that 
Social Security would be available through their retirement years.

  If I can make just a small anecdote on this point, it would be about 
2 months ago that Senator Packwood and I were on the floor proposing 
the bill that passed unanimously from the Committee on Finance, and I 
was making a point that Social Security was in surplus, the benefits 
would be there in half a century; it had never been a day late or a 
dollar short, and it would continue so.
  I noticed something, something that had never happened before to me 
on the Senate floor. I noticed that the very able young persons who 
work the desks in front of you, Mr. President, and the tables here in 
front of us, were listening. Now, normally they do not listen. They 
have better, other things and more pressing things to do. They are 
going about the business of the Senate, putting things together, 
looking up references, making arrangements, and so forth. I found them 
listening to what I was saying.
  A quorum call was introduced, and I took the liberty of going up and 
saying, ``Now, you were listening.'' They said, ``Yes.'' I said, 
``Would I be wrong in thinking that this is the first time you have 
ever heard anyone say that Social Security would be available to you 
when you reached retirement age?'' And they said, ``Yes.'' I took an 
informal poll of nine persons here at the front desk, seven of whom 
agreed that Social Security would not be there when their time came.
  Well, Mr. President, this legislation today makes it very much 
clearer that it will be. I hope we will see in very short order the 
introduction of an annual statement sent to every Social Security 
contributor of what his or her contributions that year had been, what 
survivors' benefits would be, where they stood in the earning of 40 
quarters of coverage which vests Social Security in the individual, and 
what their ultimate retirement benefits would likely be at age 65.
  All these things are easily done. In the sending out of such a 
statement, the largest cost involved is the postage stamp. But the cost 
of not doing so, which we have not done, is a near complete loss of 
confidence in younger people that the system is working. If young 
people think the Government is misleading them in something as 
elemental as Social Security, what else do they think they are misled 
  I recently received a letter from Robert M. Ball, one of the great 
authorities on this subject, a Social Security Commissioner, after a 
lifetime in the system, who spoke of the statements as ``individual 
reports to each stockholder.''
  It is long past time this was done, long past time we had a proper 
Social Security card in plastic with a hologram and not the paper 
pasteboard product of the 1930's, which said rather assertively at the 
bottom ``Not To Be Used For Identification.'' It is now issued to 
children at birth.
  Yet, when we got the law passed to say that there would be a tamper-
proof card, the Social Security Administration in the 1980's took about 
2 years to carry out the statute. And one day I got in the mail an 
announcement that there was the new tamper-proof card, the exact same 
card we always had, with this difference--there were invisible fibers 
implanted in the paper so that a counterfeit card would be instantly 
recognizable under a microscope in an FBI laboratory.
  Well, that was not the purpose of having a tamper-proof card. It was 
for the purpose of having something to show so you would know who they 
were; you would know they were part of the work force, and legally in 
the country, and citizens who had responsibilities and were carrying 
them out.
  That sort of mismanagement got to the point of genuine abuse. In the 
mid-1980's, the present mayor of New York City, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, 
who was then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, 
refused to defend the U.S. Government in disability benefit cases. He 
thought the management in the Social Security Administration was so bad 
because the Government was turning people out, turning people down, 
rescinding benefits, denying benefits. Appeals were made, benefits were 
restored or conferred, and the Government asked to go to court to 
contest. A U.S. attorney said, no, it is insufferable. And indeed it 
  So, Mr. President, today we write the final chapter in the effort to 
reestablish an independent Social Security Administration.
  I ask that my colleagues join me in supporting this historic measure.
  I ask unanimous consent that the editorial from the Rochester Times-
Union be printed in the Record.
  There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

                 [From the Times-Union, July 26, 1994]

                  Customer Service at Social Security

       Any day now, President Clinton is expected to sign 
     legislation to make the Social Security Administration an 
     independent agency, separate from the Department of Health 
     and Human Services.
       Don't yawn. This apparently innocuous change, spearheaded 
     by New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, offers the best 
     opportunity for improving service, which is the key to 
     restoring confidence in the retirement system.
       Just 39 percent of non-retired adults feel ``very 
     confident'' or ``somewhat confident'' that they will collect 
     benefits when they retire.
       Cutting Social Security loose doesn't guarantee 
     improvements, but it should raise the public profile of the 
     agency and the director (Quick, who heads this $300 billion a 
     year program?) who operate in obscurity, blissfully ignorant 
     of even the most elementary principles of customer service.

                      checking your contributions

       Eventually, the Social Security Administration should send 
     every taxpayer an annual statement of contributions to date 
     and an estimate of expected benefits at retirement age. 
     That's not common practice now, but you can get a statement 
     on request by calling 1-800-772-1213.
       Did you ever try to get a call through to the SSA? Or get a 
     new card? Or find out how much you've paid in to the system? 
     Or get an estimate of your retirement benefits?
       This is pretty basic stuff, but it's easy for an 
     organization out of the public line of fire to forget even 
     the basics.
       The current Social Security commissioner, Shirley S. 
     Chater, is the 12th in 17 years. You've probably never heard 
     of her, although she presides over a budget larger than the 
     defense budget.
       If she and her successors are more visible--are actually 
     interviewed on TV once in a while, or go before Congress--
     they should be more sensitive to you and your needs.
       ``You will get a decent Social Security card,'' Moynihan 
     says, ``You will get an annual statement of your 
     contributions and expected benefits. When you call the local 
     Social Security office, they will answer your call. And you 
     will know someone is looking after your money.''
       Maybe, he's too optimistic. But not many Baby Boomers 
     expect to get regular checks when they retire--despite the 
     fact that Social Security payroll taxes were hiked a decade 
     ago for the purpose of generating the huge surpluses (more 
     than $70 billion this year alone) that would guarantee those 
       The money's going to be there. If the Social Security 
     people begin to treat taxpayers as customers, the confidence 
     will be there, too.

  Mr. MOYNIHAN. Mr. President, with that, I conclude by noting that the 
majority leader would like to speak on this, which is a matter of great 
concern to him. Accordingly, sir, I conclude my remarks and suggest the 
absence of a quorum so that the majority leader might come to the 
  I once again would like to thank Eduard Lopez for his incomparable 
advice for 10 years on such an enterprise, and Margaret Malone of the 
Finance Committee staff, and Webster Phillips of the Social Security 
  So, Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum. I thank the 
Senate for its consideration.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. MITCHELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. MITCHELL. Mr. President, today is a historic day in the history 
of the Social Security system. I believe that it should not go without 
notice or Comment.
  Social Security is one of the broadest, most effective, and most 
widely supported of programs in our Nation's history. It has succeeded 
in large part because in the nearly 60 years of its history it has had 
champions in the Congress and in various administrations, men and women 
who have devoted much of there careers to gaining knowledge of the 
system and how it works, who have continually striven to improve and 
expand the system, and to enable it to better serve the American 
  Every Member of this Congress knows, and I hope that every American 
who is involved with the Social Security system knows, that the person 
most responsible for the legislation just enacted and the more than 
champion of the Social Security system, the man most responsible for 
educating other Members of Congress about the importance of the system, 
is the distinguished senior Senator from New York and the chairman of 
the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Moynihan.
  Senator Moynihan has devoted countless hours to informing other 
Members of the Senate about the manner in which the system operates, 
about its importance in our society, and about how it can be improved. 
The legislation just enacted by the Senate is but the latest result of 
his efforts in that regard.
  Senator Moynihan will receive many words and much praise and tribute 
on this matter, all well deserved. But I think perhaps the greatest 
tribute he can receive is the fact that all across this country there 
are millions of Americans who will not say words of tribute because 
they do not know of his work, and perhaps do not even know of him, but 
who as a result of his efforts will lead better, longer, more full and 
meaningful lives. And I think in the end that is the greatest tribute 
that can be paid.
  So, Mr. President, in behalf of all my colleagues, I thank the 
distinguished chairman for his efforts and hope that when the history 
of Social Security is written, those who write it will pay proper 
recognition and tribute to the man who has done more than any other to 
make it succeed and make it better, our friend and colleague, Senator 
  Mr. MOYNIHAN. Mr. President, with deepest gratitude, I am not fully 
confident that I ought to speak any more. The majority leader's words 
were so generous, and they mean very much to this Senator. I am deeply