As domestic political crisis go, the Social Security crisis has had a rather long run. The little monster made its first formal appearance in the 1974 Annual Report of the Trustees (1974), (1) and retained its ability to generate headlines and political grief until March 1983, when passage of the current Amendments put it to rest, at least for the time being. There is some measure of irony here. The original Social Security Act of 1935 was a rather modest venture, as these things go. Over time, the Act was expanded to cover more people, insure against more contingencies, and provide higher real benefits (Munnell, 1977). Changes since 1977 are more in the nature of reductions than growth, except for coverage which is slightly expanded by the 1983 Amendments. In 1972, Congress added what were believed to be the final touches to the structure. It provided an ultimate boost in benefits and, to take Social Security "out of politics", indexed the benefit computation formula and the benefit to price changes.
Two years later, things began to come apart. The very possibility that Social Security could not continue functioning without major changes had not been seriously contemplated by policymakers or the public since the end of World War II. The notion that Social Security could be soundly financed on a current rather than on a fully funded basis had become acceptable since the 1939 Amendments had led to this change.(2) Each increment to the law had been legislated with considerable care. The political mechanism for effectuating changes had been built around the idea of consensus, and involved interest groups (including the program executives of the Social Security Administration), legislators who developed special knowledge, and administrations which, regardless of political party, were not unfriendly to Social Security (Derthick, 1979).
"The Social Security Controversy and the 1983 Amendments,"
The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare: Vol. 11
, Article 3.
Available at: http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/jssw/vol11/iss3/3