The House Ways and Means Committee yesterday approved by voice vote legislation making the Social Security Administration an independent agency and barring the Treasury from "disinvesting" the long-term bonds in the Social Security trust funds to help the government make up temporary cash shortfalls.
The administration opposes making the SSA an independent agency, but endorses the antidisinvestment provision.
Rep. James R. Jones (D-Okla.), chairman of the Social Security subcommittee, said he hopes for action, under an expedited procedure that bars amendments and limits debate but requires a two-thirds vote, when the House returns from its July 4 recess.
The bill faces a more difficult time in the Republican-controlled Senate because of administration opposition to creating an independent agency. But Jones said that if the Senate votes it down, the House might attach the provision to an omnibus measure and push for its acceptance in conference with the Senate. It is also possible that the independent agency provision will be set aside in the Senate and the financial provision adopted as part of a bill raising the federal debt ceiling.
Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.), a cosponsor, said quick passage is needed because the government is expected to reach its statutory debt ceiling again soon. Despite Treasury support for the antidisinvestment provision, Archer fears that the Treasury might be tempted to cash out trust fund bonds, as it did in 1984 and 1985, to obtain revenue while waiting for Congress to raise the debt ceiling. Those trust funds would have lost as much as $2.4 billion in interest over five years as a result of the 1984-85 cashout had Congress not passed legislation to restore lost interest.
Sponsors of the bill believe that making Social Security an independent agency would give it a stronger voice in government and remove it from under the thumb of many low-level officials in the Department of Health and Human Services. They hope thereby to insulate it from politics and permit more continuity in senior personnel and better long-term planning. The independent agency would be run by a three-member board appointed by the president.