1972 COLA Amendments
One of the most important pieces of Social Security legislation was one enacted as a rider to a debt-extension bill. In the summer of 1972 the government was faced with increasing the federal debt limit as the Treasury was about to exhaust its existing borrowing authority. While a House bill to raise the limit was pending the Senate, Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho) introduced a rider with two important provisions: one to provide an immediate 20% increase in benefit amounts, and another to provide for automatic annual Cost-of-Living-Allowances (COLAs) for Social Security benefits. (There was also a second Senate rider, a minor one have to do with flood insurance.) The Church rider authorized annual COLAs starting in 1975, based on the actual computed increase in the cost-of-living. This has turned out to be one of the most important provisions of the Social Security program, one that drives a considerable portion of program costs and that maintains the purchasing power of Social Security benefits.
The Church rider was excepted in the Senate and this bill went forward to the House. The House called for a Conference with the Senate, since it has previously passed a version of the bill without the Church amendments. In the Conference, the House receded from its position and accepted the Senate's amendments. Owing to the peculiar parlimentary position of the legislation, no Conference Report was considered by the Senate (the Senate just assumed it version of the bill as having already been passed), and the House was asked to vote on the Senate amendments. The House accepted the Church amendments (and the one having to do with flood insurance) and thus the two chambers agreed on a bill and the legislation was passed.
Thus the votes shown here are: 1) for the Senate, the vote on final passage of the Church amendment; 2) for the House, the final vote to accept the Senate amendments.