What the Senate did that caused Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to crow, reports CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Bob Fuss, was vote unanimously to end the Social Security earnings income limit - meaning that for the first time since Social Security was invented, those over 65 can continue to work without losing benefits.
Lott says it's better for seniors and for business, too.
"We're reaching a point now, even in my state along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that we've never had before," said Lott. "We can't get enough workers to fill the jobs. We need our seniors."
Once the president signs the bill it will take effect immediately and no one will lose Social Security benefits, regardless of income.
And it will be immediate. There are about 800,000 senior citizens now who lose benefits because they make too much money, and they will get those benefits back retroactive to the beginning of the year. Seniors who limit their work so they don't go over the limit will be able to work as much as they want and it's likely to encourage other seniors to get jobs, too.
"I am just really delighted that we have achieved this," said Lott. "It is going to mean so much to our senior Americans across this great country."
Why did it take Congress so long?
This proposal has been floating around for many years, reports Fuss, but it's always gotten tied up with other more controversial tax issues and used as a political football. This year, an election year, both parties decided that rather than continue to play politics with the earnings limit, they would just get together and do it and make senior citizens happy. That doesn't particularly help one party over the other but helps incumbents of both
The Social Security system was put in place during the Depression and it made sense then to encourage people to retire at 65 so younger workers could take their jobs. Now, of course, we have lots of jobs and not enough workers, so business benefits by older workers staying on. In the long run, by the way, the government should break even on this, paying out more Social Security but bringing in more income taxes.
"By repealing this disincentive to work, we help make Social Security solvent because more workers will be earning money and paying the payroll taxes that keep the system healthy," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
President Clinton has said he will sign the bill, and House aides predicted that it will be approved there again as soon as a vote can be scheduled.
"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 in a letter to senators from India, where he was visiting.
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