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Social Security Reform

Almost from its inception in 1935, Social Security has been one of the thorniest political issues in Washington. Seen on the left as an immutable promise to American citizens and on the right as an unmanageable beast destined to bankrupt the government, it’s easy to see why Social Security is nicknamed the “third rail” of policy debate; it burns anyone who dares touch it. But in the early 1980s, official Washington had no choice; the Social Security Trust Fund was poised to begin running a deficit. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed a commission to study solutions to the looming problem. When the commission made its recommendations in 1983, it was Republican Sen. Bob Dole and Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Monyihan — party leaders respected at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — who led a bipartisan group of legislators in turning the recommendations into legislation.  Trying to keep the Social Security Fund solvent would mean amending the program, a move the group knew would likely mean an intense and bitter partisan battle in the halls of power. But Moynihan reminded his cohorts to focus on solving the discrete problem at hand and not get swayed by the partisan debate swirling around them. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions,” Moynihan famously quipped, “but not their own facts.” In the end, the group’s reforms to the Social Security Act passed and were signed into law by President Reagan.

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