They did it

All of us swallowed hard, but we put the interests of the nation in front of our individual solutions. This is the simple prescription which enabled the presidential commission on social security finally to cobble together a $167 billion plan to make the system secure once again. And it is the simple prescription which should guide the US Congress as it considers adoption of the plan. Putting the interests of the nation ahead of selfish politics will ensure speedy approval of an urgent reform and ease the concern of millions of Americans about their retirement future.

In light of all the criticism heaped on the commission for dragging its feet, it is only just that it now be commended for finally ''swallowing hard'' and hammering out a practical compromise. The bipartisan support won for the proposed reforms is heartening. With President Reagan, House Speaker Tip O'Neill, Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, and other congressional leaders (including Democratic standard-bearer for the elderly Claude Pepper) backing the package, it should have a good chance of avoiding a damaging congressional battle - despite the opposition already being mounted by the US Chamber of Commerce, the Postal Workers Union, and sundry other groups.

Obviously a compromise plan cannot please everyone. That is the nature of a compromise. But, given the magnitude of the anticipated deficit in the social security fund (up to $200 billion by 1990) and the complexity of the problem, the compromises worked out seem eminently fair and reasonable. Broadly, revenue would come from speeded up payroll tax increases, with workers allowed an income tax credit to offset the first hike; a six-month delay in cost-of-living increases; inclusion of half of benefits in taxable income for mid-to-high-income elderly; participation of new federal workers in the system; higher taxes on the self-employed; making the Treasury pay for certain benefits granted members of the military; and a ban on withdrawal of state and local government employees from the system.

Thus, for the first time the income tax system would be used to bolster social security (something which Mr. Reagan and other conservatives opposed) and a means test would be used for paying out tax-free benefits (something liberals have opposed). Under the reform, single pensioners with more than $20,000 in annual income ($25,000 for couples) would pay income tax on the social security benefits. Surely this is a fair way of providing the most benefits for those who need them most, and so reaffirming the underlying humaneness of American society.

Even this compromise program will not provide all the money needed to keep the system solvent after the year 2010. Further reforms will have to be devised as the need arises. Not incorporated in this round of measures, for instance, is a gradual rise in the retirement age. Here the issue would be one of balancing off the desirability of having individuals work longer as longevity increases with the need to bring younger workers into the labor force to cut unemployment.

In any case, huzzahs to the National Commission on Social Security Reform, to President Reagan, and to congressional leaders for the spirit of cooperation that finally brought about a breakthrough. The American people now look to their lawmakers to display the same spirit - and finally lay this long-contentious matter to rest.

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