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Congress OKs Soc. Sec. Changes

Congress has approved a bill that would lift the earnings limit for Social Security recipients to provide some relief for the nation's tight labor market, reports CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Bob Fuss.

And believe it or not, reports CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick, Republicans and Democrats actually agreed on this one.

Legislation lifting the earnings limit for recipients age 65 through 69 passed the House floor Wednesday after easy committee passage.

By a 422-0 vote, the House sent the bill to the Senate, where it has equally strong support among Republicans and Democrats

President Clinton, who endorses the measure, promised to sign a "straightforward" bill into law if it reaches his desk without too many changes.

"As the baby boomers begin to retire, it is more important than ever that older Americans who are willing and able to work should not have their Social Security benefits deferred when they do," Mr. Clinton said.

The measure is intended to benefit people like hardware salesman Dave Carey who starts collecting Social Security this spring, but fears his benefits will be reduced if he continues to work.

"Under the current system right now, I'm only allowed to earn a certain number of dollars per year and if I continue working the same hours I work now, then i get penalized,"Carey said. "I have to start giving back to social security that I've paid into all my life."

The ceilings started during the depression, when jobs were scarce. Congress designed a Social Security penalty to discourage seniors from working. Now, in the midst of a red-hot economy and the lowest unemployment in years, Congress seems ready to repeal it.

Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., introduced the bill and says he found little to no opposition to it. "This is a very important piece of legislation, not only for the retirees, but for the economy and for the American people" he says.

Managers like James Bowie, who are desperate for skilled workers, often favor seniors

"They're reliable, very informative, their knowledge from over the years of owning their own home, things like that," he said.

The bill approved unanimously Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee would repeal a law in which about 800,000 people age 65 through 69 now lose $1 in Social Security benefits for every $3 in wages above an annual limit of $17,000. The cost to the Social Security account is estimated at $22.7 billion over 10 years, but over the long term the program would not be adversely affected, in part because the more people who work, the more payroll taxes go into the fund.

The interim cost will be paid for out of the Social Security surplus.

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