Harry S. Truman

Thumbnail picture of Truman



In a world still it war it is well that we pause to celebrate one of the great peacetime achievements of the American people, namely, the enactment of the Social Security Act. It is only ten years ago that this act became law. Yet in this brief period of time social security has become an essential part of the American way of life.

We have a right to be proud of the progress we have already made in this field. We have a national system of old-age and survivors insurance under which forty million workers are insured not only for old-age annuities but also for monthly benefits to their wives, children, and dependent parents in case of the worker's death. Already there are well over one million beneficiaries actually receiving monthly checks under this insurance system.

We have a nationwide unemployment insurance system brought about by Federal action but administered by the States, under which thirty-six million workers are provided some protection against wage loss due to involuntary unemployment.

We have provided Federal grants-in-aid to the States to enable them to pay cash assistance to the needy aged, the needy blind, and dependent children. Today two and three-quarter million men, women, and children are receiving, this assistance. In addition, there are other provisions of the Social Security Act which promote child welfare and public health.

But while we have made progress we still have a long way to go before we can truthfully say that our social security system furnished the people of this country adequate protection. Therefore, we should lose no time in making of our Social Security Act a more perfect instrument for the maintenance of economic security throughout this country.

I expect to present to the Congress specific recommendations looking toward this objective.

A sound system of social security requires careful consideration and preparation. Social security worthy of the name is not a dole or a device for giving everybody something for nothing. True social security must consist of rights which are earned rights--guaranteed by the law of the land. Only that kind of social security is worthy of the men and women who have fought and are now fighting to preserve the heritage and the future of America.


The greatest gap in our social security structure is the lack of adequate provision for the Nation's health. We are rightly proud of the high standards of medical care we know how to provide in the United States. The fact is, however, that most of our people cannot afford to pay for the care they need.

I have often and strongly urged that this condition demands a national health program. The heart of the program must be a national system of payment for medical care based on well-tried insurance principles. This great Nation cannot afford to allow its citizens to suffer needlessly from the lack of proper medical care.

Our ultimate aim must be a comprehensive insurance system to protect all our people equally against insecurity and ill health.


To the House of Representatives:

I am returning herewith, without my approval, H.R. 5052, a bill "To exclude certain vendors of newspapers or magazines from certain provisions of the Social Security Act and the Internal Revenue Code".

This bill is identical with H.R. 3997, which I declined to approve in August, 1947.

This legislation has far greater significance than appears on the surface. It proposes to remove the protection of the social security law from persons now entitled to its benefits. Thus, it raises the fundamental question of whether or not we shall maintain the integrity of our social security system.

H.R. 5052 would remove social security protection from news vendors who make a full-time job of selling papers and who are dependent on that job for their livelihood. Many vendors of newspapers are excluded even at present from coverage under the Social Security Act because they are not employees of the publishers whose papers they sell. But some vendors work under arrangements which make them bona-fide employees of the publishers and, consequently, are entitled to the benefits of the Social Security Act.

If enacted into law, this bill would make the social security rights of these employees depend almost completely upon the form in which their employers might choose to cast their employment contracts. Employers desiring to avoid the payment of taxes which would be the basis for social security benefits for their employees could do so by the establishment of artificial legal arrangements governing their relationships with their employees. It was this sort of manipulation which the Supreme Court effectively outlawed in June of 1947 when the Court unanimously declared that employment relationships under the social security laws should be determined in the light of realities rather than on the basis of technical legal forms. I cannot believe that this sound principle announced by the Court should be disregarded, as it would be by the present bill.

The principal consideration offered in support of the bill appears to be a concern for the administrative difficulties of certain employers in keeping the necessary records and in collecting the employee contributions required by the social security system. In appraising these difficulties, it should be recognized that the employers have control over the form of the employment contracts and the methods by which their salesmen are compensated. The salesmen are dependent upon the employers and whatever remittances or reports arc required for withholding and reporting purposes should be within each employer's reach. Certainly, the difficulties involved are not so formidable as to warrant the exclusion of these employees from coverage in the social security system and the consequent destruction of their benefit rights and those of their dependents.

It is said that the news vendors affected by this bill could more appropriately be covered by the social security law as independent contractors, when and if coverage is extended to the self-employed. Whether that is true or not, surely they should continue to receive the benefits to which they are now entitled until the broader coverage is provided. It would be most inequitable to extinguish their present rights pending a determination as to whether it is more appropriate for them to be covered on some other basis.

In withholding my approval from H.R. 3997 list August, I expressed my concern that such a bill would open our social security structure to piecemeal attack and to slow undermining. That concern was well founded. The House of Representatives has recently passed a joint resolution which would destroy the social security coverage of several hundred thousand additional employees. As in the case of H.R. 5052, the joint resolution passed by the House is directed toward upsetting the doctrine established by the Supreme Court last summer that employment relationships should be determined on the basis of realities. The present bill must be appraised, therefore, as but one step in a larger process of the erosion of our social security structure.

The security and welfare of our nation demand an expression of social security to cover the groups which are now excluded from the program. Any step in the opposite direction can only serve to undermine the program and destroy the confidence of our people in the permanence of its protection against the hazards of old age, premature death, and unemployment.

For these reasons, I am compelled to return H.R. 5052 without my approval.

Harry S. Truman

NOTE: On April 20 the Congress passed the bill over the President's veto. As enacted, H.R. 5052 is Public Law 492, 80th Congress (62 Stat. 195)

4. Veto of Resolution Excluding Certain Groups From Social Security Coverage, June 14, 1948

To the House of Representatives:
I return herewith, without my approval, House Joint Resolution 296, "To maintain the status quo in respect of certain employment taxes and social security benefits pendiing action by Congress on extended social security coverage".

Despite representations to the contrary, sections 1 and 2 of this resolution would exclude from the coverage of the old age and survivors insurance and unemployment insurance systems up to 750,000 employees, consisting of a substantial portion of the persons working as commission salesmen, life insurance salesmen, piece workers, truck drivers, taxicab drivers, miners, journeymen tailors, and others. In June, 1947, the Supreme Court held that these employees have been justly and legally entitled to social security protection since the beginning of the program in 1935. I cannot approve legislation which would deprive many hundreds of thousands of employees, as well as their families, of social security benefits when the need for expanding our social insurance system is so great.

Furthermore, if enacted into law, this resolution would overturn the present sound principle that employment relationships under the social security laws should be determined in the light of realities rather than on the basis of technical legal forms. In so doing, it would make the social security rights of the employees directly excluded, and many thousands of additional employees, depend almost entirely upon the manner in which their employers might choose to cast their employment arrangements. Employers desiring to avoid the payment of taxes which would be the basis for social security benefits for their employees could do so by the establishment of artificial legal arrangements governing their relationship with their employees. I cannot approve legislation which would permit such employers at their own discretion to avoid the payment of social security taxes and to deny social security protection to employees and their families.

It has been represented that the issue involved in this resolution is whether or not the legislative branch of the government shall determine what individuals are entitled to social security protection. This is not the issue at all. The real issue is whether the social security coverage of many hundreds of thousands of individuals should be left largely to the discretion of their employers. On this issue the proper course is obvious.

The expressed purpose of the sponsors of this resolution is to exclude from the coverage of the Social Security Act persons who have the status of independent contractors, rather than that of employees. But no legislation is needed to accomplish this objective. Under present law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, only persons who are bonafide employees are covered by our social security system.

When all of the considerations regarding sections 1 and 2 of the resolution are sifted, two basic facts remain unrefuted. Hundreds of large employers are assured of an exemption from social security taxes, while hundreds of thousands of employees and their families are equally assuredly prevented from receiving the social security protection which the Supreme Court in June of last year clearly indicated was justly theirs. These two facts were minimized by the sponsors of the resolution who would have us believe, for example, that a travelling salesman who devotes full working time in the service of one company and depends completely upon that company for his livelihood is not an employee of that company but is an independent businessman and does not need social security protection.

Instead of clarifying the distinction between independent contractors and employees, which is a difficult legal issue in many cases, this resolution would revive the confusion which has plagued the administration of the Social Security Act for so many years. Benefits which are now payable to thousands of persons would have to be withheld pending final determination of the new and complex legal problems raised by this resolution.

Moreover, the resolution purports to preserve the past coverage of employees who have already made contributions under this system. But in fact, under the terms of the Social Security Act, such coverage would expire in a few years, and previous contributions would be made worthless.

It has been asserted that it would be difficult for employers to keep the necessary records and meet other requirements of the law with respect to the employees affected by this resolution. This is reminiscent of the objections made in opposition to the original Social Security Act in 1935. If such objections had prevailed in 1935, our social security program never would have been enacted. To allow them to prevail now would threaten the very foundation of the system. I cannot believe that the mere convenience of employers should be considered more important than the social security protection of employees and their families.

It has also been urged that without this resolution some persons would receive credit toward old age and survivors benefits for three or four past years during which contributions were not collected. If the elimination of these credits had been the real purpose of the resolution, it could readily have been achieved without permanently excluding anyone from social insurance protection.

If our social security program is to endure, it must be protected against these piecemeal attacks. Coverage must be permanently expanded and no employer or special group of employers should be permitted to reverse that trend by efforts to avoid a tax burden which millions of other employers have carried without serious inconvenience or complaint.

Section 3 of this resolution contains provisions completely unrelated to sections 1 and 2 for additional public assistance of $5 per month to the needy aged and blind, and $3 per month to dependent children.

These changes fall far short of the substantial improvements in our public assistance program which I have recommended many times. Nevertheless, I am strongly in favor of increasing the amount of assistance payments. Were it not for the fact that the Congress still has ample opportunity to enact such legislation before adjournment, I would be inclined to approve the resolution in spite of my serious objections to sections 1 and 2. Speedy action on public assistance legislation is clearly possible. I note that section 3 of this resolution was adopted as an amendment on the floor of the Senate, and passed by both houses in a single afternoon: Accordingly, I am placing this matter before the Congress in adequate time so that the public assistance program will not suffer because of my disapproval of this resolution.

At the same time, I urge again that the Congress should not be satisfied at this session merely to improve public assistance benefits urgent as that is. There are other equally urgent extensions and improvements in our social security system which I have repeatedly recommended. They are well understood and widely accepted and should be enacted without delay.
Because sections 1 and 2 of this resolution would seriously curtail and weaken our social security system, I am compelled to return it without my approval.


NOTE: On June 14 the Congress passed the bill over the President's veto. As enacted, H.J. Res. 296 is Public Law 642, 80th Congress (62 Stat. 438).


In the last 15 years the Federal Government has established a basic pattern of activities in the field of social welfare, health, and security. The national system of old-age and survivors insurance, the system of regular grants to States for public assistance payments to the needy aged and blind and to dependent children, the Federal-State system of unemployment insurance, and several grant programs for the promotion of public health and of children's welfare were established by the Social Security Act of 1935. More recent laws established the railroad retirement system and grants to States for the school lunch, hospital construction, and mental health programs. Also included in the Government's social welfare, health, and security programs are the older system of grants to States for vocational rehabilitation, and those Federal services directed toward the prevention of crime and the apprehension and detention of criminals.

Under the Social Security Act, the national policy contemplated that old-age and survivors insurance would be the primary Government measure affording economic protection to the needy aged and dependent children, and that unemployment compensation would provide temporary assistance to the unemployed. Other types of social insurance were to be added later to provided more adequate protection against major economic hazards of our society. Public assistance was designed as a backstop, a second line of defense, eventually to be replaced in large measure by social insurance benefits. We have not made progress toward this objective in the last decade. Individual benefit payments under public assistance now are substantially higher than under old-age and survivors insurance. They are more adequate, in many cases, than under unemployment insurance.

Three principal steps should be taken now to strengthen and complete the system of social insurance, and thereby to mike our governmental programs consistent with the basic national policy in this field.

First, old-age and survivors insurance should be extended to nearly all the 25 million gainfully employed persons not now covered; the scale of benefits should be sharply raised; benefits should be provided for women at an earlier age; and higher part-time earnings should be permitted. (In addition, coverage under the unemployment compensation system should be extended and benefits made more adequate, as indicated in the "Labor" section of this Message.)

Second, disability insurance should be provided to protect against loss of earnings during illness or other temporary disability, and to assure continuing annuities to workers who become permanently disabled and therefore unable to earn a livelihood.

Third, a comprehensive national health program should be established, centering in a national system of medical care insurance, accompanied by unproved services and facilities for public health and medical care.

These recommendations have had extended public discussion. Action is long overdue. I am confident that the Congress will enact promptly the legislation needed to achieve an integrated, comprehensive system of social insurance. . . .

My recommendations contemplate raising the tax rate on presently covered employment . . . In addition, I propose that we raise the ceiling on taxable earnings, as well as extend the pay-roll tax to workers and employers not now covered. The addition of insurance coverage for medical care and disability benefits will also require some additions to the pay-roll tax rates in order that the whole social insurance system will continue to be substantially self-supporting. . . .


In our growing economy, there can be no excuse for failure to develop an adequate system for protecting our citizens against economic insecurity. As we produce more, we can and should make more adequate provision for the aged, those who cannot find work, and others in our society who are in need.

I urge the Congress to act promptly on the recommendations I have made for the extension and improvement of social security. We must move rapidly toward a comprehensive social insurance system protecting nearly all workers--including those employed in farming--and their families against the risks of old age, unemployment, disability, death of the family wage-earner, and illness. The costs of such a system, when measured against the growing output of our economy, are well within our capacity to pay.

The present programs of social security are grossly inadequate. Because of the limited coverage of the present law, and the exhaustion of benefits by many workers, one-third of the unemployed are now receiving no unemployment insurance benefits, and in some areas the proportion approaches two-thirds. Many communities provide no public funds for the relief of jobless workers and their families. There are also several million disabled workers, many with families to support, who are not eligible for public insurance benefits. In some places, they do not even receive public relief. Only 650,000 of the millions of bereaved or broken families with very low incomes are receiving survivors insurance. Only 30 percent of the aged population are eligible for social insurance benefits, which are so meager that few can retire voluntarily. Needed medical care is denied to millions of our citizens because they have no access to systematic and adequate methods of meeting the cost.

The current inadequacy of the social insurance programs is sharply reflected in the disproportionate load now being borne by public assistance programs. Increasing numbers of the aged, the disabled, and the unemployed have been forced to resort to public assistance. This distorts the original intent of the Social Security Act that people are entitled to security as a matter of right. The burden of public assistance is straining the fiscal capacities of State and local governments. While enactment of proposed social insurance programs will alleviate this problem in the future, provision must be made for dealing with the problem in the meantime. I therefore urge enactment of the proposals which I submitted to the Congress last spring for the extension and improvement of the program of Federal grants to States for public assistance.


I have today approved H.R. 6000, the Social Security Act Amendments of 1950. These amendments greatly strengthen the old-age and survivors insurance system and the public assistance programs originally established by the Social Security Act of 1935. The passage of this legislation is an outstanding achievement. In this act the 81st Congress has doubled insurance benefits and brought 10 million more persons under old-age and survivors insurance--including those whose insurance rights were taken away by the 80th Congress. Millions of others will benefit from the new public assistance provisions giving help to the disabled and to dependent children. For the first time American citizens in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands will be covered under both the insurance and assistance programs. In addition, veterans of World War II will now receive wage credits for military service in computing their insurance benefits.

This act will help a great many people right away. Three million aged persons, widows, and orphans will receive increased insurance benefits beginning with the month of September. A million more will begin to receive increased payments within the next few months. Nearly 3 million needy persons will benefit from increased Federal aid to the States for public assistance purposes.

By making it possible for most families to obtain protection through the contributory insurance system, and by increasing insurance benefits, the act will ultimately reduce dependence on public charity. This measure demonstrates our determination to achieve real economic security for the American family. This kind of progressive, forward-looking legislation is the best possible way to prove that our democratic institutions can provide both freedom and security for all our citizens.

We still have much to do before our social security programs are fully adequate. While the new act greatly increases coverage, many more people still need to be brought into the old-age and survivors insurance system. Expanded coverage and increased benefits in old-age insurance should now be matched by steps to strengthen our unemployment insurance system. At the same time, we urgently need a system of insurance against loss of wages through temporary or permanent disability. These and other vital improvements in our social security laws are needed in addition to the act which I have signed today. I shall continue to urge action on this unfinished business and I know that the committees of Congress are now preparing to give these matters serious consideration.

There is one very unfortunate feature in the new law. This is the so-called Knowland amendment, tacked on as a rider in the Senate. It may result in undermining the safe-guards enacted by the Congress to protect workers against loss of unemployment insurance benefits if they refused to accept employment at substandard wages or working conditions. This amendment has nothing whatever to do with old-age insurance or public assistance, the main subjects of the new law. While the other provisions of the bill were the product of thorough consideration in the committees of both Houses, neither committee ever had an opportunity to hold hearings on the Knowland amendment. I trust that the Congress will reconsider this ill-advised provision and will act promptly to remove it from the social security laws.

Both the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance have already announced that they intend to study proposals for further improvement in our social security pro,,rams. Members of these committees have worked long and faithfully on the act which I have signed today. I am confident that their future efforts will be equally productive in advancing social security in this country.


My Dear Mrs. Cochrane:

I want you to know that I am in complete agreement with the sentiments you expressed in your letter to me. The present insurance payments of the social security law are just plain inadequate, and in all fairness to the many aged people who depend on these payments for their very existence they must be raised as quickly as possible.

I have been well aware of this problem. In all three of the annual messages which I sent to the Congress this past January, I stated that the insurance payments were inadequate and that they should be raised. I pointed out that because of the rising wage level, the available revenues of the social security system would permit us to increase the primary benefit rates by an average of five dollars a month without any added cost to anyone. It seems only fair that this adjustment in payments should be made for the benefit of those who have already made contributions to the system. The many people dependent on these payments as their sole source of subsistence are certainly entitled to this additional consideration.

On May nineteenth, the Administration bill which authorized this increase in monthly payments came up for debate in the House of Representatives. And our Republican friends, who you and I know are opposed to any legislation which works to the benefit of all our people, frantically searched for some device to defeat the measure. They saw the word "physician" in the text of the bill and on the advice of the American Medical Association began screaming about "socialized medicine." They raised this bogey in connection with a provision that merely called for adequate protection against those who might falsely claim pension benefits on the basis of physical disabilities. This is the same kind of provision that we have had for years in the administration of our veterans insurance programs. However, the scare words were enough to give an excuse to a solid bloc of Republicans, and they were able to defeat this bill which would provide the badly needed increases in social security payments.

This doesn't mean our efforts to bring about this increase in benefits will stop. The House leadership has announced that this measure will definitely be brought up for a vote again next Monday. It is my hope that both the House and the Senate will give speedy approval to this highly justified bill now that the scare propaganda has been exposed for the sham it really is.

I certainly hope that this bill will be quickly enacted into law. But I can assure you of this much. I am going to keep fighting for this proposal, just as I have always fought for other measures that are based upon our confidence in the ability of this country to so manage its affairs as to bring a decent life for ill its citizens.

I want to thank you for your very kind expression of support for the things I have stood for. One of the most gratifying aspects of this difficult task of mine is receiving warm words of encouragement like yours.

Very sincerely yours,


NOTE: Mrs. Cochrane's letter to the President had been picked as representative of an older person's experience with old-age and survivors insurance payments under existing social security statutes.


I have today signed H.R. 7800, the Social Security Act Amendments of 1952. This is an important landmark in the progress of our social security system.

The new law increases old-age and survivors insurance benefits by in an average of $6 per month. The new law also makes certain increases in the minimum benefits under the Railroad Retirement System. These increases become effective for the month of September and will add to the incomes of more than 4.5 million people now drawing benefits from these insurance systems.

Both systems are further improved by increasing from $50 to $75 per month the amount which a person can earn without losing his insurance benefit. In addition, members of the Armed Forces serving from 1947 through 1953, will now receive the same employment credit under the old-age and survivors insurance system that was granted servicemen during World War II.

The new law also increases by $250 million per year, the amount of the Federal contribution to the States for public assistance. This will make it possible for the States to increase assistance payments to the 5 million dependent children and aged, blind, and disabled citizens now receiving State help to meet their minimum financial needs. Increases will amount to about $3 per month for dependent children, and $5 per month for the rest, provided that the States use all the new Federal funds to increase total payments to the needy individuals. It is hoped and expected that this will be done.

The major features of this new law follow the recommendations which I made to the Congress last January. The Congress is to be congratulated for this prompt and effective action to strengthen the social security laws and to ease the pressure of living costs for so many millions of Americans.

A large share of the credit for this timely and constructive measure is due to Chairman Doughton of the House Ways and Means Committee, the sponsor of the great Social Security Act of 1935 and of every major improvement in social security since that time. Chairman Doughton has announced his retirement from the House of Representatives after 40 years of service. H.R. 7800 is his last legislative achievement for the American people and I am sure they will join with me in Honoring him for it.

In this new law, otherwise so generally desirable, there is one drawback which I feel requires comment at this time. I deeply regret that the Congress failed to take proper action to preserve the old-age and survivors insurance rights of persons who become permanently and totally disabled. There is a provision in the act which purports, beginning July 1, 1953, to preserve an individual's rights in the event of disability--but unfortunately, the act also includes a sentence, saying that this provision shall cease to be in effect on June 30, 1953. The net effect of this is that the provision will expire on the day before it can go into effect. Thus, in the act I have just signed, the Congress takes away with one hand what it appears to give with the other.

The provision thus nullified by this extraordinary effective date arrangement, is analogous to the waiver of premiums in private insurance policies. This provision would permit aged persons whose disability has forced them into early retirement to have their benefits recomputed so that lost time due to their disability would not count against them.

No fair-minded individual denies the justice of such a provision. No procedures would be involved that are not already a part of the daily routine of scores of private life insurance companies. No administrative methods would be required that are not already used by any one of several Government disability programs for veterans, railroad employees, and Government workers, including Members of the Congress the themselves.

The way in which this provision was, in effect, defeated is such a revealing example of how the Republicans dance when a well-heeled lobbyist pipes a tune that I think it warrants being brought to the particular attention of the American people in this election year.

The disability provision was recommended to the House of Representatives by its Committee on Ways and Means. On May 19th, the bill was taken up on the House floor under a motion to suspend the rules, a procedure which permits quick action but requires a two-thirds favorable vote to pass a bill. This procedure was agreed to because no one foresaw any opposition to this sensible and reasonable piece of legislation.

At this point, the Washington lobbyist for the American Medical Association got the notion that here was a chance for him to attack what he chose to call a "socialistic" proposal. So he sent a letter or telegram to every Member of the House. There had been no other opposition to H.R. 7800.

There was, as Chairman Doughton stated on the floor of the House, "no more socialized medicine in...(this provision)...than there is frost in the sun." Yet, when the House voted on the measure, nearly 70 percent of the Republicans were against the bill. A great majority of the Democrats, to their credit, stood firm and voted for the bill, but with the solid Republican opposition, they were unable to muster the necessary two-thirds vote.

After that defeat, the bill was sent back to the Ways and Means Committee. Then the story began to get around as to what had really happened. A great number of Republicans apparently decided they couldn't take the heat when they got caught, for when the bill was again reported and again brought to the floor, only 12 percent of the Republicans persisted in their opposition.

On this second try, the bill passed the House, on June 17th. But the American Medical Association lobby had accomplished what it wanted just the same. For the month's delay in the House had created such a situation that the Senate could act before adjournment only by dispensing with hearings. It was then the strategy of the American Medical Association to put up a great demand to be heard on the disability provision. Faced with the Association's insistence, the Senate committee decided to drop this provision rather than schedule hearings which might consume the time before adjournment and thus lose the chance for Senate action on the bill.

The net result of the medical lobby's maneuvering was the impairment of insurance protection for millions of disabled Americans. What the lobby could not engineer outright, it won by delay. And be it noted that this victory for the lobby, at the people's expense, was accomplished by a great majority of the Republicans in the House. They were perfectly willing to deny millions of American the benefits provided by this bill in order to satisfy the groundless whim of a special interest lobby--a lobby that purports to speak for, but surely fails to represent, the great medical profession in the United States.

I earnestly hope that the Congress next year will override the foolish objections of the medical lobby and put a proper disability provision in the law.

The new law is finally adopted omits one other good provision which was passed by the House. I refer to a section of the House bill which would have permitted State and local government employees who are covered by retirement systems, to hold a referendum as to whether they wish to come under the Federal insurance program. There is a widespread desire on the part of such employees to obtain the protection of the insurance program. I hope the Congress will enact this much-needed provision next year also.

In addition, I hope the Congress at that time will also consider the entire question of further extending and liberalizing the Social Security Act as a whole.

NOTE: As enacted, H.R. 7800 is Public Law 590, 82d Congress (66 Stat. 767).