The chairman of the House-Senate conference committee considering the Social Security bill said yesterday the panel may put off final action on the legislation until sometime next year, probably after President Carter's general tax cut plan is unveiled.
Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.), the conference chairman, told reporters that conferees from both houses are so deadlocked over key provisions that "perhaps we shouldn't resolve" the differences "before January anyway." He indicated he preferred to consider the bill in conjunction with the coming tax cut proposal.
Delaying the Social Security bill would present some problems for the Carter administration - primarily by complicating the annual budget-making cedure. Planners need to know the size fo contemplated Social Security tax increases before they can put finishing touches on the January budget proposal.
President Carter has said he wants to wait for completion of the Social Security and energy bills before deciding on the size of his general tax cut recommendations.
Both bills contain large tax increases which Carter wants to offset with income tax cuts in 1978.
It was not immediately clear how strongly Long would push to put off final action on the Social Security bill. The senator made known his feelings yesterday after the conferees tried a second time, but failed, to make any significant progress on the measure.
A spokesman for Rep. Al Ullman (D-Ore.), head of the House conferees, said Ullman still would prefer to finish the bill this month, but was "also aware that Sen. Long, as chairman, controls the time-frame the committee is working under" - implying he would not oppose a delay.
Hopes for a possible breakthrough welled up yesterday when staff members circulated a compromise that would pare the bill's hefty increases in Social Security payroll taxes and at the same time scrap a number of major step-ups in benefits.
The compromise also would retain the traditional "parity" formula that apportions payroll taxes evenly between company and worker, rather than shifting it more toward employers, as the Senate bill would delete a House-approved bailout fund to be financed by income taxes.
But committee sources said the social Security provisions in the bill, which are designed to relieve strain on the present pension trust fund, are not the main sticking point.
Instead, it is the provisions not directly related to Social Security that are deadlockng the panel most. The Senate has enacted a set of changes in the walfare system and a college tuition tax credit that House conferees do not want.
The conference panel became snagged on both again yesterday with Ilman, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, refusing even to consider the welfare provisions, insisting they would interfere with the "welfare reform" bill now being drafted by a Wars and Means subcommitte.
And the conferees argued at length again about teh Senate passed proposal to provide parents of college students a tax credit to help cover some tuition costs. This would allow a $250 credit for each student at a cost of $1.2 billion a year ato the Treasury.
In hinting at a postponement of the bill. Long said the conference has dragged on so long he is afraid that if an agreement came late in December, voters would "blame" the pending legislation for a previously scheduled increase in Social Security payroll taxes stated for Jan. 1.
By contrast, he said, "if we're voting in January we'll be talking about this in connection with a tam cut [to be proposed in Carter's coming tax package]."
"If we have to take the rap for a tax increase, we might as well take the rap for what we did do," he said.
Committee sources said Long was apprehensive about trying to push through both the energy tax bill and the Social Security measure before Congress goes home this month. Many lawmakers have reported that voters are complaining about the "double" tax increase the two would provide.
In the deliberations yesterday, the conferees made a number of decisions on relatively minor provisions in the package including two proposals that would liberalize the minimum monthly benefits for recipients of old-age, survivors' and disablility insurance payments.