Statement on Signing a Bill Extending Temporary Ceiling on National Debt and Increasing Social Security Benefits.
I HAVE today signed H.R. 15390, which extends the temporary ceiling on the national debt, and which, among other measures, provides for an across-the-board increase of 20 percent in social security benefits.
One important feature of this legislation which I greet with special favor is the automatic increase provision which will allow social security benefits to keep pace with the cost of living. This provision is one which I have long urged, and I am pleased that the Congress has at last fulfilled a request which I have been making since the first months of my Administration. This action constitutes a major break-through for older Americans, for it says at last that inflation-proof social security benefits are theirs as a matter of right, and not as something which must be temporarily won over and over again from each succeeding Congress.
Another important section of H.R. 15390 provides for accelerated tax refunds for disaster losses. This provision, the passage of which this Administration also urged on the Congress, extends from 3 1/2 months to 6 months the period after the end of the tax year in which a person can claim a deduction for disaster losses. This means, for example, that a person suffering disaster losses between April 15 and June 30 of this year can recompute his or her 1971 taxes and receive a refund check now, while the money is needed most, rather than waiting until next April to claim the same amount. This is particularly timely in the wake of the extensive damage caused by the recent floods.
As I have indicated on other occasions, however, H.R. 15390 includes some serious shortcomings.
It fails the test of fiscal responsibility by failing fully to finance its increase in social security benefits. As a result of this failure, it would add an additional $3.7 billion to the more than $3 billion by which earlier actions and inactions by the Congress have already thrown the full employment budget for fiscal year 1973 into deficit--thus threatening dangerously to escalate the rate of inflation at a time when this Administration's economic policies are succeeding in turning it back.
I am determined that we shall win the battle against inflation--and that fiscally irresponsible policies shall not again penalize all Americans, and especially the older citizens whom these benefit increases are designed to help, by taking away in higher prices what they have gained in higher wages and higher benefits.
Therefore, it will be necessary for the Congress and the Administration to offset the additional $3.7 billion deficit created by this measure through cuts in other Federal programs.
An additional fault with H.R. 15390 is that it jeopardizes the integrity of the Social Security Trust Fund by substantially reducing the necessary coverage of trust fund reserves to ensure annual benefit payments. I shall request the next Congress to restore this full 100-percent protection.
My belief that offsetting cuts in other programs can be made--although they may be painful--together with my belief that older Americans need and deserve increased benefits, permits me to sign this measure. However, I note that the Congress has extended the debt ceiling only until October 31, thus setting the stage for what could become a frantic, election eve scramble to attach a whole collection of seemingly attractive, politically popular, but fiscally irresponsible, riders to the debt ceiling bill at that time. Debt ceiling bills are a tempting target for such maneuvers, because the Government quickly becomes unable to function if the ceiling falls back below the actual level of Government debt. I place the Congress on notice now that if this occurs--if fiscally irresponsible riders are then attached to that debt ceiling bill, for which it is not possible to find offsetting cuts in other programs--then I will not hesitate to exercise my right and responsibility to veto.
Beyond the shortcomings I have noted in this measure, it should be noted that the added benefits will not come without cost. Even though it is not fully funded, the measure still imposes considerable additional tax burdens on all wage earners. However, the overriding and finally determining factor in my decision to give my approval to this act is my deep concern for the well-being of our older Americans. They both need and deserve a significant increase in social security benefits.
With the signing of H.R. 15390, social security benefits since this Administration took office will have increased by a compound total of 51 percent. It is now our responsibility to see that these needed increases in income for our senior citizens are not eaten up by increases in the cost of living. The Congress has a solemn responsibility to join me in fighting inflation, adopting an unbreakable rule--that there shall be no future increases in spending above my budget without providing for tax increases to pay for such spending increases. Our older Americans deserve full and fair consideration at the hands of their Government, and I have made every effort to see that they receive it. It is in consideration of their just requirements, and in spite of the fiscal irresponsibility that the Congress has demonstrated in its deficit funding of this legislation, that I have signed H.R. 15390.
Note: AS enacted, H.R. 15390 is Public Law 92-336 (86 Stat. 406).
Richard Nixon, Statement on Signing a Bill Extending Temporary Ceiling on National Debt and Increasing Social Security Benefits. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/254622