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Veto of a Bill To Increase Life Insurance Coverage for Government Employees, Officials, and Members of Congress.

August 12, 1967

To the House of Representatives:

I am compelled to return, without my approval, H.R. 11089--a bill which would cause large increases in life insurance coverage for government employees, officials and Members of Congress.

I am returning this bill because it places too heavy a burden and levies too heavy a charge on the American taxpayer by providing private insurance out of public funds.

I am returning it because it sets an unwise precedent at a critical time in our history. Today, we dare not divert our resources for unnecessary demands, when there are many more crucial needs which urgently require our support.

Life insurance is but one of many fringe benefits a government employee or official receives. Certainly government life insurance was never intended to meet entirely the needs of an employee or his family. It is meant primarily to supplement his personal coverage.

Nevertheless, we know that the life insurance program must be strengthened and improved. That is why last year I recommended needed changes in insurance benefits to Congress that I considered reasonable and fair.

Congress, however, far exceeded my recommendation. And so last year I was compelled to disapprove the life insurance measure because it threatened to fuel the fires of inflation and to impose an unwarranted burden on the taxpayer.

Again this year hoping for a sound program, I recommended another modest measure. In June, I called for a $13 million program designed to:

--make the insurance system actuarially sound.

--remove an inequity by providing additional coverage.

The bill which finally passed the Congress was subjected only to brief debate. The roll was not called in either House on the passage of this bill. It was passed by voice vote.

If this measure were approved, the cost to the American taxpayer would rise from the $13 million I recommended to a minimum of $61 million in the first year and continued commitments for the future.

The bill would substantially increase life insurance coverage at the taxpayer's expense for all government officials and employees:

--For most by 33 1/3 percent--an unnecessary expense.

--For a selected few--the President and Vice President, Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials, the Members of Congress, Members of the Judiciary, and U.S. Ambassadors, all those in the highest brackets who need it the least--by too percent, to $40,000--an unwarranted expense.

Finally, it would increase the government's contribution for each employee from 33 1/3 percent to 40 percent.

This bill would impose an added burden on the American taxpayer just when we are asking him to pay a 10 percent tax surcharge. And, because our budget is tight, it would syphon funds away from Americans who need our support much more: children, the poor, the elderly--and most important, American fighting men in Vietnam.

In the face of a possible $29 billion deficit, we must scrutinize every dollar that we spend. To keep the budget within bounds and to head off the threat of inflation, I pledged in my Economic Message last week that "I will make every possible expenditure reducing--civilian and military--short of jeopardizing the national security and well-being." H.R. 11089 does not meet this rigorous test.

Over the past ten years, the salaries of Federal employees have risen by nearly 75 percent--and their life insurance coverage has risen by the same amount, 75 percent.

Since I have been President, there have been four successive civilian pay increases-and four insurance increases. The total cost of these programs has amounted to more than $2 billion. And with the new 4.5 percent pay increase which I have proposed for this year, we will be adding almost another half billion dollars to civilian pay and insurance and another half billion dollars for military pay.

Against this background, I can see no justification for the large life insurance increases voted by the Congress.

The 4.5 percent pay proposal I submitted in April is fair and just for Federal personnel. Yet Congress is now considering adding an extra $1 billion to the Administration pay bill. This is equivalent to a 2 percent tax surcharge; it would come directly out of the pocket of the American taxpayer. We must hold the line--and we must hold that line in the pay bill. This same sense of economy and responsibility must be maintained on all matters.

All of us are dedicated to the well-being of the 3 million Federal employees who serve the Nation's cause. The record of this Administration, and of the past three Congresses, attests to that dedication.

But the President must be concerned with the total public interest. Every taxpayer--including the citizen who is a public servant-- should bear in mind this larger interest. That is why I must return this measure unapproved.

Certainly there are good and acceptable features in the bill now before me.

--It contains a new provision to raise the minimum coverage to $10,000 for those employees in the lower grades who need protection the most.

--It places the insurance program on a sound actuarial basis.

If the Congress wishes to provide additional coverage over and above my recommendations, ways might be explored to permit direct purchases by the employee with his private funds under current group plans. But the employee who benefits directly--not the taxpayer--should be asked to bear this added cost.

I have asked the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and the Director of the Budget to begin working immediately with the appropriate Committees of the Congress toward an acceptable program.

I hope the Congress will take my comments and recommendations into account. I hope the Congress can send to me--this year--a wise, fair, and well-justified bill--a bill that is both responsive to the needs of the Federal employee, and responsible in light of America's economic needs.

I would be proud to sign such a measure.


The White House

August 12, 1967

Note: A news briefing on the veto was held on the same day at 5 p.m. in the Press Secretary's office at the White House by John W. Macy, Jr., Chairman of the Civil Service Commission, and Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Special Assistant to the President. The text is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 3, p. 1140).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Veto of a Bill To Increase Life Insurance Coverage for Government Employees, Officials, and Members of Congress. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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