WASHINGTON — The United States Senate's defeat of a proposed cut in Social Security taxes removes the last major obstacle to an uncommonly smooth budget process this year in Washington. Already approved by the House of Representatives, the budget now is expected to sail through the Senate and, before long, to be signed by President Bush.
The final budget is expected to be close to the one the president proposed early this year; the approved House measure differs slightly with Bush's budget on some domestic programs.
Both economic and psychologic factors brought Wednesday's defeat, by a 60-to-38 vote, of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's proposal. It would have been a first step to the New York Democrat's overall plan to trim Social Security payroll taxes from 6.2 percent to 5.2 percent over four years.
What the Senate actually voted on this week was whether only 51 votes would be needed this year to pass the Moynihan proposal instead of the 60 votes now required.
The vote was a test of the strength of the tax-cut proposal. The vote was widely expected to be tight, but the margin of defeat was so large that Senator Moynihan later said he would not ask the Senate to vote on his tax-cut proposal this year.
Senators heeded arguments, largely from President Bush and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) of Texas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, that the cut would increase the annual budget deficit by billions of dollars; the fiscal 1992 budget carries a $289.6 billion deficit.
``The objective I don't quarrel with, of trying to give some tax relief to middle-income people,'' Senator Bentsen said one day before the vote. ``But trying to find a way to pay for it, that's the problem.''
Senators also listened to the argument that reducing Social Security taxes now ``would be premature,'' in the words of Horace Deets, executive director of the American Association of Retired Persons, still the strongest lobbying force in Washington for elderly Americans.
Right now the trust fund that finances Social Security payments has a $60 billion surplus, which Bentsen says is a 10-month reserve.
Opponents of the bill, including Bentsen and Mr. Deets, argued successfully that in order to safeguard Social Security payments against future recessions, no thought should be given to reducing Social Security taxes until the reserve has reached at least an 18-month level.
Surveys find that many young Americans think the Social Security System probably will run out of money before they retire.
Senators heeded the arguments that the tax-cut proposal should be defeated in order to ease these concerns, as well as the fears of today's elderly that a cut in taxes might jeopardize their own retirement payments.
Senators are painfully aware that any vote they take which upsets the elderly, as this one threatened to, could backfire at the polls.
America's elderly vote in substantially higher proportion than the young and the middle aged.