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Reagan Defends Limits on Social Security Hike : Says Democrats Who Accuse Him of Reneging on Campaign Pledge Are 'Lying in Their Teeth'

April 06, 1985|GEORGE SKELTON and KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writers

SANTA BARBARA — President Reagan charged Friday that Democrats who accuse him of breaking a campaign promise by agreeing to reduce cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients are "lying in their teeth."

Reagan flew here for a 10-day Easter vacation embroiled once again in controversy over a subject--Social Security--that has dogged him throughout his political career.

Social Security became the focus of opponents' attacks on the budget compromise that Reagan announced Thursday after agreeing to a formula that would hold recipients' annual benefit increases to 2 percentage points below inflation.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), in a letter to fellow senators, said that "these cuts hurt most those who are most poor and most old, those with few other sources of income."

Moynihan, citing what he said were the Administration's own figures, asserted that the new Social Security proposal would push 242,000 additional Americans below the poverty line--more than half of them persons over age 72.

Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), the chief spokesman for the elderly in Congress, charged at a Washington press conference that Reagan was "deliberately repudiating a commitment he made to the elderly" during his reelection campaign.

"We in Congress say: 'Mr. President, we're going to make you keep your word--God help us!' " Pepper added.

During last fall's campaign, Reagan left an impression with many Americans--without actually saying so--that he would not tamper at all with Social Security if reelected.

In Louisville, during his first debate with Democratic candidate Walter F. Mondale, Reagan said: "With regard to Social Security . . . I will say this: A President should never say never, but I'm going to violate that rule and say never. I will never stand for a reduction of the Social Security benefits to the people that are now getting them."

Later, two weeks before Election Day, the President admonished reporters on hand for a photo session in the Cabinet Room to "go out of the way a little to tell these frightened senior citizens that they are going to continue to get their payments and no one is going to take away anything from them."

The plan suggested by White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan and accepted by the President and Senate Republican leaders Thursday would not cut current Social Security benefits. But it would hold future increases below what had been expected.

4% Inflation Rate

Under current law, Social Security recipients would get an automatic cost-of-living increase next year based on the 1985 inflation rate, if the rate is at least 3%. The Administration has projected the inflation rate for this year at 4%.

Under the compromise proposal, Social Security recipients would be guaranteed a 2% increase, regardless of the inflation rate. If the rate were above 4%, recipients would receive an increase equal to the amount above 4%, plus the guaranteed 2%.

For example, if the inflation rate were 4 1/2%, recipients would get a 2 1/2% raise.

"How is adding a 2% raise each year cutting it?" Reagan asked reporters rhetorically as he prepared to board a helicopter Friday on the south lawn of the White House.

Points to Freeze Action

Reagan said at a press conference in January that, if he were "faced with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both houses" that wanted to freeze Social Security benefits, he "would have to look at that situation." The President pointed out on Friday that the Senate Budget Committee last month had voted to freeze the benefits and that he was proposing at least to guarantee a 2% increase.

When asked if he thought Democrats now would try to "beat up on" him over Social Security, Reagan replied testily: "Well, if they do, they'll be lying in their teeth--as they did in 1982."

During the 1982 congressional elections, Democrats made political hay out of the Administration's short-lived 1981 proposal to trim some Social Security benefits.

$52-Billion Reduction

Reagan's budget compromise was aimed at cutting the federal deficit by $52 billion and bringing it down to $176 billion during the 1986 fiscal year, which begins next October. Besides providing for a 2% Social Security cost-of-living hike, it would increase the defense budget by 3% over inflation.

Cyril F. Brickfield, executive director of the American Assn. of Retired Persons, argued at a Washington press conference: "Is it fair to give the Pentagon inflation plus 3% and older and disabled Americans inflation minus 2%?"

Reagan told reporters: "We think we have a very good plan."

When asked if he had reached the bottom line on defense spending, he replied: "Yep."

Was he willing to cut any deeper? "Nope."

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