The Senate killed a proposed cut in the Social Security tax Wednesday, giving President Bush an important victory in the year's first major battle of the budget.
The proposal was defeated 60-38, in a vote that crossed party lines and made unlikely allies of Bush and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the 1988 Democratic vice presidential candidate.Despite the claims of tax relief, Bentsen belittled the impact of the cut on working Americans.
"A person earning $30,000 a year would get something like $2 or $3 a week," Bentsen said. "Maybe that would allow him three cups of coffee a week - maybe on Monday, Wednesday and Friday."
Sen. Daniel Moynihan, D-N.Y., offered the cut in the Social Security payroll tax as an amendment to the $1.4 trillion fiscal 1992 budget that carries a $289.6 billion federal deficit.
Bound by the rigid caps on programs in the five-year agreement approved late last year with a goal of cutting the deficit by $482 billion, the 1992 budget resolution has very little flexibility.
Within the boundaries, the budget resolution moved children and families to the top of the federal agenda by putting more into education and programs for children, at the expense of other programs, such as space.
Among the highlights are a $3.1 billion increase for education and $1.3 billion for such programs as Women, Infants and Children (WIC), nutrition, Head Start, child care and job training.
Although many aspects of the budget resolution ran counter to White House proposals, Bush interceded only in the dispute over the Social Security tax cut in a letter to Senate Republican leader Robert Dole.
In acid tones, Bush said Moynihan's amendment would "return Social Security to the same financing scheme that drove the system to the brink of insolvency in 1982."
"His proposal would drain roughly $23 billion from Social Security trust fund reserves in 1992 and $170 billion by the end of 1996," Bush said. "Under pessimistic economic assumptions, adoption of this legislation would again threaten to bankrupt the Social Security system.
Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., said Bush's charge was not true and called it "blasphemy."