Statement by the President Upon Signing the Social Security Act Amendments.
I HAVE today signed H.R. 7800, the Social Security Act Amendments of 1952. This is an important landmark in the progress of our social security system.
The new law increases old-age and survivors insurance benefits by an average of $6 per month. The new law also makes certain increases in the minimum benefits under the Railroad Retirement System. These increases become effective for the month of September and will add to the incomes of more than 4-5 million people now drawing benefits from these insurance systems.
Both systems are further improved by increasing from $50 to $75 per month the amount which a person can earn without losing his insurance benefit. In addition, members of the Armed forces serving from 1947 through 1953, will now receive the same employment credit under the old-age and survivors insurance system that was granted servicemen during World War II.
The new law also increases by $250 million per year, the amount of the Federal contribution to the States for public assistance. This will make it possible for the States to increase assistance payments to the 5 million dependent children and aged, blind, and disabled citizens now receiving State help to meet their minimum financial needs. Increases will amount to about $3 per month for dependent children, and $5 per month for the rest, provided that the States use all the new Federal funds to increase total payments to the needy individuals. It is hoped and expected that this will be done.
The major features of this new law follow the recommendations which I made to the Congress last January. The Congress is to be congratulated for this prompt and effective action to strengthen the social security laws and to ease the pressure of living costs for so many millions of Americans.
A large share of the credit for this timely and constructive measure is due to Chairman Doughton of the House Ways and Means Committee, the sponsor of the great Social Security Act of 1935 and of every major improvement in social security since that time. Chairman Doughton has announced his retirement from the House of Representatives after 40 years of service. H.R. 7800 is his last legislative achievement for the American people and I am sure they will join with me in honoring him for it.
In this new law, otherwise so generally desirable, there is one drawback which I feel requires comment at this time. I deeply regret that the Congress failed to take proper action to preserve the old-age and survivors insurance rights of persons who become permanently and totally disabled. There is a provision in the act which purports, beginning July 1, 1953, to preserve an individual's rights in the event of disability-but, unfortunately, the act also includes a sentence, saying that this provision shall cease to be in effect on June 30, 1953. The net effect of this is that the provision will expire on the day before it can go into effect. Thus, in the act I have just signed, the Congress takes away with one hand what it appears to give with the other.
The provision thus nullified by this extraordinary effective date arrangement, is analogous to the waiver of premiums in private insurance policies. This provision would permit aged persons whose disability has forced them into early retirement to have their benefits recomputed so that lost time due to their disability would not count against them.
No fair-minded individual denies the justice of such a provision. No procedures would be involved that are not already a part of the daily routine of scores of private life insurance companies. No administrative methods would be required that are not already used by any one of several Government disability programs for veterans, railroad employees, and Government workers, including Members of the Congress themselves.
The way in which this provision was, in effect, defeated is such a revealing example of how the Republicans dance when a well-heeled lobbyist pipes a tune that I think it warrants being brought to the particular attention of the American people in this election year.
The disability provision was recommended to the House of Representatives by its Committee on Ways and Means. On May 19th, the bill was taken up on the House floor under a motion to suspend the rules, a procedure which permits quick action but requires a two-thirds favorable vote to pass a bill. This procedure was agreed to because no one foresaw any opposition to this sensible and reasonable piece of legislation.
At that point, the Washington lobbyist for the American Medical Association got the notion that here was a chance for him to attack what he chose to call a "socialistic" proposal. So he sent a letter or telegram to every Member of the House. There had been no other opposition to H.R. 7800.
There was, as Chairman Doughton stated on the floor of the House, "no more socialized medicine in . . . [this provision] . . . than there is frost in the sun." Yet, when the House voted on the measure, nearly 70 percent of the Republicans were against the bill. A great majority of the Democrats, to their credit, stood firm and voted for the bill, but with the solid Republican opposition, they were unable to muster the necessary two-thirds vote.
After that defeat, the bill was sent back to the Ways and Means Committee. Then the story began to get around as to what had really happened. A great number of Republicans apparently decided they couldn't take the heat when they got caught, for when the bill was again reported and again brought to the floor, only 12 percent of the Republicans persisted in their opposition.
On this second try, the bill passed the House, on June 17th. But the American Medical Association lobby had accomplished what it wanted just the same. For the month's delay in the House had created such a situation that the Senate could act before adjournment only by dispensing with hearings. It was then the strategy of the American Medical Association to put up a great demand to be heard on the disability provision. Faced with the Association's insistence, the Senate committee decided to drop this provision rather than schedule hearings which might consume the time before adjournment and thus lose the chance for Senate action on the bill.
The net result of the medical lobby's maneuvering was the impairment of insurance protection for millions of disabled Americans. What the lobby could not engineer outright, it won by delay. And be it noted that this victory for the lobby, at the people's expense, was accomplished by a great majority of the Republicans in the House. They were perfectly willing to deny to millions of Americans the benefits provided by this bill in order to satisfy the. groundless whim of a special interest lobby--a lobby that purports to speak for, but surely fails to represent, the great medical profession in the United States.
I earnestly hope that the Congress next year will override the foolish objections of the medical lobby and put a proper disability provision in the law.
The new law as finally adopted omits one other good provision which was passed by the House. I refer to a section of the House bill which would have permitted State and local government employees who are covered by retirement systems, to hold a referendum as to whether they wish to come under the Federal insurance program. There is a widespread desire on the part of such employees to obtain the protection of the insurance program. I hope the Congress will enact this much-needed provision next year also.
In addition, I hope the Congress at that time will also consider the entire question of further extending and liberalizing the Social Security Act as a whole.
Note: As enacted, H.R. 7800 is Public Law 590, 82d Congress (66 Stat. 767).
Harry S Truman, Statement by the President Upon Signing the Social Security Act Amendments. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231223