Robert M. Ball - Interview #1
This interview with Mr. Ball is taking place on January 29th, 2001 at Mr. Ball's home in Alexandria, Virginia. The interviewer is Larry DeWitt, SSA Historian.
Interviewer: OK Bob, as I sent you this list, it is a kind of a miscellaneous
collection of questions that we can start with, if that's okay with you?
Interviewer: Then later on, maybe we will try to do something a little more systematic.
I have a few questions for Professor Berkowitz who's at work on his biography of you and he wanted to fill in some gaps in his information. So we will start with some of his questions
You didn't go into the service during World War II. Can you tell me what the circumstances were? What did you do during the War?
Ball: I can tell you what I know, which isn't a great deal. I just was never drafted. I never applied for a deferment, and I expected to be drafted almost any time. I was classified in several different categories, which I have forgotten their meaning by now. I had all these various classifications at different times. The first, as I remember, was a 2-A, and a 3-A, and a 4-A and a 1-A. The 1-A is of course the one when you are immediately available for drafting. Actually what the 2, 3 and 4 are reflective of, I don't remember.
I am sure one consideration was that I was married and 27 years old and was about to have a baby. My son's birthday is July 11th, 1942.
Ball: What I actually did, because I expected to be drafted, was try throughout the whole period, to get a commission. I figured if I was going into either the Army or the Navy I'd rather be an officer than not. And the thing that I thought I had the most chance for was military government with the Navy. They were leaving detachments to rule various islands in the Pacific as they went and I thought one of those might be a possibility for me, given that I had a background in government. It was just that loose and . . .
Interviewer: So did you actually apply for a commission?
Ball: I applied for a commission several times and it went to the point of physical exams, but what they used as a reason for not giving me a commission was that my eyes didn't correct to quite normal with glasses and they didn't even want to take people unless they had a special reason to take them, who had to wear glasses.
I also tried at one point to see if I could voluntarily enlist in the submarine service, because it was more pay.
But that is about all there was to it. I worked continually at Social Security, and certainly not at the kind of job that was essential to the war effort. I was a large part of the time in the Training Office at Social Security. And I would have been in Baltimore the whole time, or at least almost the whole time. It was in 1945 when I left the government to go with Karl de Schweinitz at the American Council on Education. So that's about all I know.
Interviewer: Let me ask you something for my own interest about that period. The whole country of course did all sorts of civil defense and all sorts of mobilization efforts, in the civilian world, but also government agencies did a lot of things. I noticed that SSA had Coast Watch units and things like that and of course the War had a big impact on SSA in terms of people leaving. Is there anything that sticks out in your mind about how the War impacted SSA as an organization during that period?
Ball: Well of course, we lost a lot of staff. Almost entirely men were lost to the war effort and that led to very intensive activity to try to get the job done with fewer people. One really quite successful survey, which might be good to do again someday, was called the "Why Survey" in which each employee was challenged to defend the significance of the work he was doing and how -- so a judgment could be made whether it was really critical to getting work done. Everybody was involved in the whole organization, with a lot of written paper, and a lot of waste, I'm sure, in just conducting the survey. But it was that kind of effort, of trying to get the work done with less manpower, as you would expect.
Interviewer: The other thing that I think happened then was a big shift in the workforce so that SSA had a lot of women in it, a big proportion of women. Did that start with the War, or was that always true of SSA?
Ball: I would guess -- I mean that's factual and can be determined rather than my trying to remember--but I would guess that had always been true. But it would have increased during the War.
Ball: The kind of jobs, in both the District Office and in the Central Office, the big record keeping jobs, lent themselves to a very sizable female employment, I would guess, from the very beginning.
Interviewer: OK, I've never gotten myself clear on that.
Ball: Of course it was true in general throughout the country that more women entered the workplace during the War, but I think that was more in specific war industries, where it was really a radical change to employ groups who had not much chance to be employed before, which means women and minorities of all kinds.
Interviewer: But no so much a change for SSA?
Ball: I don't think so.
Interviewer: OK, all right. Let's talk now about the 1948-49 Advisory Council. I think there are a couple of questions about that. Professor Berkowitz was interested in your relationship with Alvin David and the staff at SSA during your work on the Advisory Council. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Ball: Yes. The staff of the Advisory Council itself was very, very small. The listing of their names is in the back of each of the individual reports of the Advisory Council. There were several individual reports that the council put out, and the final one just encompassed all the individual ones, and that was put out in January of '49. But there were separate reports on old age and survivors, a separate report on disability, a separate report on public assistance, and a separate report on unemployment insurance. The consistent staff throughout that work consisted of: myself; Leona McKinnon, who had been borrowed from the Social Security Administration and who did all the administrative work and a great deal of preparation of getting stuff out to the council members, and so on; and Fidel Fauri who was borrowed from the Library of Congress, and who had been very active with Senator Millikin in setting up the Council, in getting it going and making the selection of the members and so on-and just a couple of others, and that was the continuing staff. Then we added a person or two as we hit each specialty. Like somebody came in for unemployment insurance, but just one person. Somebody came in on disability insurance--that actually was two, one from private insurance and one who was not. That's the way it was formally staffed, with payment out of the appropriation that the Council had to work with.
Ball: Now we received a great deal of help in the preparation of the background materials from Alvin David's shop in the Bureau of Old Age & Survivors Insurance. His job was in what was called the Analysis Division, but it was really the shop that dealt with legislation and policy positions of a very fundamental kind--different than the Claims Policy group that took the law and interpreted it and changed it into directions to the staff. Alvin wasn't involved in that. This was the philosophy of the program, and issues of modification of the program. They worked year in and year out on the issues around program expansion and change.
And I worked there myself for a considerable time before I left the government. I'd said earlier that for a lot of the War I was in the training office, that's true, but I was also in this Analysis Division as well. I headed what was called the Coverage Unit.
Myself and maybe five or six professional people in that Unit, spent all our time working on plans to cover household employees, agriculture employees, the self-employed, and any other groups that were not covered originally--like non-profit employees. So that was always a continuing function of Alvin David's Shop. Then they'd have a whole section on benefit formulas. A whole section on insured status. So it was in his shop where work was going on about the kinds of issues that an Advisory Council would deal with. Now we drew on that previously accumulated information to a very large extent.
That Council was a very hard-working council. It only met for a little over a year but we did all of those reports that I've listed. The way it worked was that there was what amounted to a steering committee of council members that met separately before the council meetings--two weeks before every council meeting, the steering group would meet. They really represented the council as a whole. There were two employer members, two labor members, and two members representing the general public, and the actuaries and other experts. And those six people met with me, and perhaps some staff, and approved what went out to the whole Council for their meeting. The whole Council met every month and this group met on the two weeks in between, so we were just constantly writing materials and sending out background books to the council members.
Interviewer: Now would the Steering Committee be the same people each time or different depending on subject?
Ball: Always the same people, and always the Council members of course. Now Alvin David and his people would never attend those meetings -- only the staff actually on the payroll of the Council.
Ball: But they would feed in information that we used and Alvin himself would actually help in the writing and the presentation of the materials in the background books. He would help me get that done.
Interviewer: Now was that the beginning of your close relationship with Alvin David or was it started back when you worked for him?
Ball: When I worked there before I worked for him, he was my supervisor. When I was in charge of Extension of Coverage he was in charge of the whole operation of preparing these legislative analyses and such. He wasn't head of the Division. The whole Division was headed by an Assistant Director of the Bureau-the Assistant Director for the Analysis Division, may have been the actual title. The titles are somewhat confusing. What it means is Assistant Director of the Bureau, not Assistant Director of the Analysis Division. Alvin was not that.
Interviewer: Who was that? Do you recall?
Ball: It was a very peculiar arrangement, really, because the top people didn't have the nerve to decide between two with claims to the job. Each had a previous historical claim to the position, so they turned it into an attempt to operate under a dual-arrangement. Merrill Murray was one of them and Jacob Pearlman was the other. Those two together headed what was called the Analysis Division.
Alvin was under them and I was under Alvin.
But it is an important point in my own career, because it was through my involvement in the issue of extension of coverage that I really got to know Wilbur Cohen well, and Altmeyer well. They reached down into the hierarchy and worked directly with me, because they were so interested in the issue of extending Social Security coverage. The original Act, covered only employees of business and industry. And a major objective of the Social Security Administration from 1939 on, was how could they extend the program to all American workers where it was practical to do so. We finally ended up with maybe the most comprehensive single system in the world, because we covered all employees practically-with the exception of some state and local employees. But we covered the armed services, we covered the self-employed. Most systems in the world don't put all this together. But they were so interested in that, that I spent a lot of time personally with them. I went to meetings and on trips with Altmeyer and so I got to know both of them very well, even though I was quite far down in the organization.
Ball: In the hierarchy, most people way above me would hardly know Altmeyer and Cohen. Which is an explanation why, as Altmeyer left, he appointed me Deputy Director of the Bureau.
I left Social Security around 1945. I did this Advisory Council work and after I came back I was the Assistant Director in charge of the same operation that we have been talking about-- that I used to be in. And it was Altmeyer who, as he left government, put into my job description a single sentence, maybe it isn't even a full sentence, that said I shall also act as Deputy Director of the Bureau. So when the Head of the Bureau left, as the Republicans came in, I automatically became the Head of the whole Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance. Simply because -- well, for two reasons. One, I knew Altmeyer well by that time, and secondly, he was more interested in the continuing philosophy of the program than primarily administrative experience. His writing that sentence in my job description skipped me over much more experienced, older men who considered themselves senior to me in every respect. So I became the Director of the Bureau by this device even though I had never really operated as Deputy. There wasn't any real Deputy. But that is how I came to the position. It was something of a shock, I think, to some of these older, more-experienced guys, and they had to learn to live with this fact that I had jumped over them all. But the truth was that I did know and understand the program, and it's true that they did not, even though they were much more experienced administrators.
Interviewer: Now, did that come as a surprise to you? Did Altmeyer discuss that with you, tell you he was planning that, or did he spring that on you out of the blue? Do you recall?
Ball: It was extremely casual. I certainly knew about it, it wasn't a surprise after he left to find it there. He certainly let me know that he was doing this. I didn't ask for it. It wouldn't have occurred to me that this was a likely or even possible thing. In retrospect, I think it was a great idea! And I thought it was at the time. But these were guys who were running organizations with thousands of people. Joe Fay from the very beginning had been in charge of the Accounting Operations Division. In that division he was considered a remote and powerful person by the thousands of employees there. The head of the whole field organization, Hugh McKenna, was running operations across the country--12 Regional Reps were under him and thousands of employees. The big Payment Centers-six of them-were under another Assistant Director. Well, it really hadn't occurred to me that somebody would put me in charge of all that, though I wasn't unduly modest. It's just that I hadn't been thinking in those terms.
When I left the government in 1945, if that is the right date, Altmeyer was extremely anxious to keep me in the government, and he really pretty much directed the Head of the Bureau, Oscar Pogge, to try to keep me. They offered me all kinds of different things. Altmeyer himself offered to make me (I was in the Training Office at the time) Chief of Training, in his office, at the Social Security Administration level as compared with the Bureau level. Actually, it wasn't nearly as much of a job at his level as it was in the operating division. So that didn't attract me at all. And Oscar Pogge offered me the position of Chief of the New York Payment Center, which in itself was a large operation of maybe 1,500 people. Well, I really hadn't thought in terms of being primarily an administrator in charge of a lot of people, doing what I would consider not very fundamental work. It was processing claims and getting people paid -- an important job to do, but not something I ever really thought much about. I had been in training, which was to teach people what the program was all about. I had been in research, which was to help shape the program for the future. So I guess the answer to your question was I certainly didn't expect it. But I agreed with Altmeyer that the important thing really was to have the program headed by somebody who understood it, believed in it, had a relationship with the Congress, and could really direct the ongoing program. Not just large numbers of employees for doing the relatively day-by-day jobs, which were the jobs of these other men. And it worked out well. I found that I was actually pretty good at the actual administration of the program although I had no real experience until I had the job. I had no special interest or thought about it. I did spend a lot of time trying to learn how you run an organization, but it was all self-taught. I don't mean self-taught in a sense, I mean I read management books and so on, but I was not experienced. But you know running any kind of an operation--even with a few hundred employees that were researchers and statisticians in the Analysis Division-- has many of the same aspects as running a much larger organization.
Interviewer: There are a lot of things I want to ask you about that, but let me go back and pick up one name that you mentioned, because Berkowitz asked me to ask you about him. That was Jacob Pearlman, who was one of the dual heads of the Division of Program Analysis. What was your working relationship with Pearlman?
Ball: Never really very close. Jacob Pearlman was the brother of Selig Pearlman, the Professor of Labor Economics at Wisconsin and was one of the Wisconsin group. He was a very loyal, devoted believer in social insurance. He and Merrill Murray shared the running of the Analysis Division.
When I first was there, Merrill Murray was the Chief of the Division and Pearlman was Head of what was called the Economic Section. It had originally been a division that had two parts, that split right down the middle. There was a bunch of economists doing research on the economics of the program, and an actuarial section which did what actuaries do - made estimates. But there was a strong philosophical argument between the two groups. The actuaries basically were considerably more conservative about the role of the program on in to the future. Well, there was this division between the economists and the actuaries in terms of work, in terms of philosophy. There was a lot of time in those days for discussion and conferences and argument. And the economists saw a bigger role for Social Security in American life than the actuaries did. And a lot of the argument really revolved around that difference.
But what I was getting at was that Merrill Murray in the beginning was the Chief of both, of the whole thing, and Jake Pearlman was head of the economic part, and a guy named John St. John was head of the actuarial part. Ultimately that clearly wasn't working. The split was very deep and the accommodation was to keep them together theoretically as two parts of the same unit, but to have the two men try to operate as if they were co-chiefs of the operation.
I wasn't really very close to either Merrill Murray or Jake Pearlman because they were one step above me. Between me and them was always somebody else. Alvin David was the main person in between. Alvin held different positions, sometimes kind of a separate arrangement where he was considered a technical advisor to the whole division-with a considerable independence--but really working for the two men who headed it.
Pearlman and I agreed on the larger role for Social Security, and I was less inclined to agree with the actuarial side of the Division. Our relationship was always pleasant and we were allies, but he wasn't terribly influential. He had orthodox liberal positions, and I guess so did I. But he didn't create anything very much and I really did think up a lot of things to do in the way of expanding coverage--the whole approach to self-employment and household employment and agricultural employment that was finally adopted-- were things that I had developed and one reason that I got to know Altmeyer and Cohen so well was they disagreed with my approach to farm workers and household employees and had started out thinking that they could do what England did with the stamp book--that the employee could carry from employer to employer. I thought that was really not going to work well in the United States and I guess I had something to do with persuading them to back what we finally came up with.
Interviewer: Would it be fair to say that Alvin David was kind of the power there in the Division, even though he was sort of one layer below the Assistant Directors, or is that not the case?
Ball: No, I don't think that's the case. I don't think anybody much thought that they were really reporting to Alvin. I found him very thoughtful and a very useful person to discuss things with, and certainly in the area he was responsible for at the time--these ideas for expansion of the program--he was in charge of those things. But it would be incorrect to think that he substituted for Pearlman and Murray when they were jointly in charge. He was very helpful to them but he didn't take their place.
Ball: Now, later on when I came back to the organization, in January of 1949 I guess it was-maybe it wasn't January, but at least it was in 1949--I was in charge of the whole Analysis Division. In other words, I was taking the place of what in the past had been both Murray and Pearlman's jobs together. Alvin then moved to be in the Office of the Director of the Bureau-- he became an assistant to Oscar Pogge, who was at that time the Director of the Bureau. I think this was done partly because Alvin felt that the whole organization expected that he would be the one who would be named Assistant Director. When they brought me in from outside; I wasn't working for the government. I had been at the American Council of Education and for the last year had been in the Senate Finance Committee staffing this Advisory Council. So when they brought me in from outside he felt that it was going to look very bad from the standpoint of his prestige and career to turn up as my subordinate, when I had left as his subordinate. The way this was handled was to move him upstairs, in effect, to become the Assistant to the Bureau Director, and we really had absolutely no trouble. We had previously been fast friends; we continued to be fast friends and are fast friends to this day.
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about Alvin, as a personality, and his style. I met him a few years ago when I did an interview with him and he seemed like such a gentle, sweet man to me.
Ball: Well, he is.
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about him as a personality and his working style and just to give us some idea.
Ball: Well, Alvin is a lot more than his work. He is a great enjoyer of life. He appreciates a great many areas of activity, such as art, music, all kinds of reading. He was very hard working, very devoted to the program. He would never think of any kind of work as being an imposition. He readily participated with me far, far into the night if a piece of legislation was up. And working with the Legislative Council drafting bills for the Congress, or with me alone, he was always available and always extremely intelligent and useful. The only reservation I ever heard anybody express about him was that as a supervisor he was so diplomatic that sometimes a subordinate didn't know what they were coming away with. He was so careful when he told them to change something or do something different they weren't quite sure that they understood what he wanted. He was a very sweet person. And he was very diplomatic.
Take into account we were very close. I mean, when he went in the Army his wife came to live with us and lived with us for a year or more. They moved their furniture into our place that we rented in West Annapolis. When she left it was because she was pregnant and she went with him where he was camped. But it was that kind of close relationship from way back.
Interviewer: I don't remember if it Jack Futterman who told me this, or something that I saw that you had said one time, but I heard someone observe that because Alvin was a gentle person in some way that he had a hard time with people like Altmeyer, or other people who would be more aggressive in meetings and more pushy, and that Alvin would be more restrained and if he wasn't careful he could sort of get bullied by someone. That was the implication. Is that wrong or am I understanding that correctly?
Ball: No, I think you understand that correctly. He was fazed by Altmeyer. Altmeyer was a big figure. You have to keep in mind that Altmeyer was the head of the Social Security System, in those days when that included not only Old Age and Survivors Insurance, but, on and off, the Children's Bureau, Unemployment Insurance, the Federal Credit Unions, Public Assistance--and he was a big figure in social policy.
Altmeyer was not very diplomatic. He was quite capable of being abrupt with people, and gruff even. He was a very nice man, not only in terms of his values and goals, but to know personally too, once you were on that kind of personal relationship with him. But he was kind of standoffish and he held most of his staff at arms-length. When he held a meeting and he was sitting in the chair, people should think carefully about what they were going to say. Alvin was a little buffaloed by that, but he wasn't alone. It's not a great mark of his character.
I think the more exceptional thing was that I'd gotten to know Altmeyer enough, and disagreed with him enough, that I didn't have the slightest feeling like that. I was completely willing to argue with him about anything. I mean not on purpose, but I mean I didn't feel bashful about speaking up. So that was probably more unusual. But Alvin didn't show up to his best when dealing with Altmeyer. Even Wilbur Cohen didn't show up to his best. Wilbur leaned over backwards to accommodate Altmeyer, rather than argue with him. Altmeyer was kind of a dominating type in an argument. He liked people to argue back, but he didn't recognize, I am sure, how intimidating he seemed. So that they didn't get the best out of him in an argument-they would keep thinking what could they say to this ogre? (Laughs) That's an exaggeration, but they're trying to figure out how to modify his position without a direct confrontation. So Alvin didn't show up to his best in those meetings.
Interviewer: That's interesting.
Ball: That's probably part of the explanation though why Altmeyer wanted me back, and in that job as Assistant Director, which was a job that Alvin would have reason to think that he was next in line for.
Ball: It would just be an impression of personalities.
Interviewer: OK, good.
Ball: I was just going to say that Alvin, incidentally as you may know, is living in an apartment in Chicago of a retirement type. I haven't talked to him lately, but he has got to be 93 or so.
Interviewer: I think it was, oh gosh when did I go see him? In 1997, maybe, I went to talk to him.
Ball: If you need - if you want to talk to him again you probably ought to do it relatively soon.
Interviewer: I hadn't planned to, but it was nice to meet him. I enjoyed it very much. He was very gracious, it was fun. It was a great interview.
How about Wilbur Cohen? How did he figure in the '48-49 Advisory Council work, if at all? Did he have a role in that?
Ball: Not at all significant. The Council was established by the Senate Finance Committee when it was under the charge of the Republicans. Senator Millikin was Chair of the Committee.
Ball: They wanted to be pretty sure that the Council was not dominated by the Social Security Administration and that it came to its own conclusions. They had, I'm sure, some kind of consultation in selecting members of the Council, although by no means did the Social Security Administration have a veto, but I am sure there was consultation. What would insure it as much as anything would be that Fidel Fauri helped Senator Millikin set it up and he was in touch with Wilbur and they were friends and it ended up later on that Wilbur went to Michigan where Fidel Fauri was the Dean of the School of Social Work. So they had an input in setting up the council. They testified before the Council, but only once, and some of that was a little bit testy between the Council members and the Social Security witnesses.
Interviewer: Was it Altmeyer who testified or Wilbur Cohen, or who are we talking about?
Ball: Altmeyer testified, and Wilbur was present and I.S. Falk was present. Falk was the head of research at the Commissioner's level. The relationship was not hostile but somewhat standoffish during that whole year. I didn't deliberately avoid them, but neither did I ask their advice. In retrospect, I am surprised that we didn't talk more or spend some time together, but we didn't.
Leona McKinnon--who was the Administrative Assistant who ran all of the administrative stuff for the Council and who had come from Altmeyer's personal office in the sense that she was called the Secretary of The Social Security Board, where previously she had been secretary to Altmeyer-she actually said to me about three quarters of the way through, "Gee, you really ought to tell Wilbur some of the things you're doing. His feelings are hurt." And that's all I did--explain to him a little bit about what was going on. But I felt no need to consult him, even about the most fundamental change that we made. It just didn't occur to me.
The big compromise on that Council was in the Old Age Survivors and Disability part-- which was most important legislative part-the big compromise that made it possible to get out a good report, was to do again in 1949 what had been done in 1939, in the most fundamental terms. That is to tip the cost so that more money was spent early and less later. By that I mean that the fundamental compromise in the '48 Advisory Council was to pay much higher benefits right away to many more people, but at the same time to drop the increment in the benefit formula that people got for every year under the program. You had a benefit formula, and for every year that you worked you would have an additional percentage, so that after 40 years people's benefits would be 40 per cent higher than they would be at the beginning. The compromise was to drop that entirely. And instead to, in effect, pay benefits right away, that were 40 per cent higher. So the long range costs--and they used to do them very long range, really, the estimates were in perpetuity at that time-the long range costs didn't go up, but people got a lot more in benefits for the next couple of generations. That, as I say, I didn't even talk to the Social Security people about.
Ball: Maybe partly because I knew they were opposed to it. The idea of an increasing amount for every year of work was important to Altmeyer on a theoretical ground of making people realize they were getting more for their continuing contributions. He didn't want it to be all averages. And that was the one thing he objected to. At least he objected to it pro forma at the time that we finally made the recommendations, and I did meet with them and go over all our recommendations. But he was so happy to have the total amount of recommendations of the Council, it all fit into what he really wanted to accomplish. And he saw that what I had done was absolutely necessary to getting an agreement. He didn't really make a great deal or point of it. In retrospect I think Wilbur would have been expected to have been talked to, or kept informed, but he was not. It wasn't so much a deliberate attempt to leave him out; the truth is it just didn't cross my mind as being something that was important to do.
Interviewer: They didn't attempt to lobby the Council or to lobby the staff to get their point of view across?
Ball: I'm sure they talked with and lobbied some members of the Council. Like the two labor members on the council would be expected to do the same things that they wanted and would consult with them about it. Nelson Cruikshank and Emil Rieve from the Textile Worker's Union, and the staff person from the CIO, Kitty Ellickson. I am sure they were in touch with them. Doug Brown, who had been Chairman of the Council, very close to them. They may have talked, I don't know. It wasn't reported to me. I don't think they felt it necessary to lobby me. I came from their way of thinking. They knew I was for extended coverage. They knew I was for permanent, total disability insurance. What they didn't bother to consult with me about, and I wouldn't have been very open to it had they, was tactics or how to accomplish what I wanted and what they also wanted, or any of that type of thing. They just weren't in contact. They didn't feel it necessary to lobby me for a basic position. But in retrospect I am pleased that they didn't take the initiative to lobby about how I should do this or that or handle this or that. That either showed confidence or hopelessness. (Laughs) I don't know which!
Interviewer: Oh, I'm sure it was confidence.
Ball: But whatever it was, it didn't happen.
Ball: So Wilbur, Wilbur was just about completely outside that Advisory Council work.
Ball: As far as I knew . . .
Ball: Let's see, there is nobody, nobody yet living who they would have consulted, like it would be Doug Brown, Nelson Cruikshank, Emil Rieve and so on and I knew nothing about that.
Interviewer: All right, now that Advisory Council Report of course also accomplished something that you wanted to accomplish, which you had worked on in program analysis, which was expansion of coverage. That was a huge part of it, right?
Ball: That is the part I happened to have worked on. I wanted the whole thing.
Interviewer: I didn't mean to suggest . . .
Ball: I had become devoted to the goals of the program back when I was in the Training Office-even before I went into the Analysis Division. Having to teach a subject really gets you to understand it, and I was a devoted follower of extension of coverage, of increasing benefits, of liberalizing insured status, of setting up the national health insurance system, of adding total disability insurance. And I still am for all of those things.
Ball: I don't learn! (Laughs) I just believe the same as when I started.
Interviewer: The nation just lags behind you a little bit, Bob, that's all.
Ball: So in any event, yes, it accomplished a lot--I mean it recommended a lot--of what I had in mind. I didn't really lose completely on any issue.
Interviewer: Right. Now I don't remember, I may be mistaken here--its been a long time since I looked at your report. Did you recommend a COLA, because it became a big part of what was in the 1950 amendments--the first payment of COLAs.
Ball: No, no.
Interviewer: Or, well- the first general benefit increase. Let me describe it that way. The 77 per cent benefit increase . . .
Ball: Yes, but not an automatic. . .
Interviewer: Right, not an automatic COLA, we didn't have for a long time later.
Ball: I thought that was what you meant.
Interviewer: No, no. Just the idea that benefits had never been increased since 1940.
Ball: Oh, yes. I think there was an argument for increasing benefits, always. Probably in '39, as compared with the '35 Act. They increased benefits and I'm sure that inflation was part of the argument for it. Now, what gradually did happen though, before the automatic provisions were actually passed in '72, was the general recognition that the proper goal was to keep benefits up to date, not just with inflation, but also with increases in wages. And you had Bob Meyers as Chief Actuary making cost estimates always as if the program were going to be continually liberalized to keep up to date with wages. That was his rationale for the assumption that wages and prices were not going to increase. That is the same thing as saying that if they do increase they are not going to be kept up to date with those changes. So he always had been making estimates that left room for cost of living adjustments. That's what created the long-range surplus that made it possible for the 20 per cent benefit increase in the 1972 Amendments without increasing the financing of the program. It results from a change in the way the estimates were made.
Interviewer: All right, we will get to 1972 a little later. Let me just go back and close the loop on one thing here to make sure I've got it right. I have always tended to think about that first big benefit increase in 1950 as being, in effect, a one-time cola, even though it wasn't automatic. I typically describe it as the first COLA. Am I mis-describing things.
Ball: I think there is more to it than that. It was actually intended to bring the system up to a point that had been contemplated for the system to reach, many, many years in the future. It was thought of as an anticipation. That's why it was possible to reach it by dropping the increases that were supposed to occur later and put them in right away. It wasn't argued primarily as just restoring purchasing power. Part of it was obviously a restoration of purchasing power. In terms of the bargaining--as a way of getting conservative support for a big increase in benefits-we didn't insist on keeping benefits going up and up beyond where they would have eventually been under current law. That would have meant higher taxes, which they wouldn't have supported. So the only way you could get the conservatives to agree to a big increase right away was to cut out the big increase that was going to come later.
Interviewer: All right.
Ball: And didn't build on top of it again. So they did not have in mind that it was going to constantly be raised beyond possible inflation adjustments.
Interviewer: An adjustment for purchasing power. . .
Ball: There were somewhat sophisticated references to the need for future increases in the report itself. But it wasn't really part of the bargaining that went on. In writing the report there were explicit statements about how in making the cost estimates what was significant was to make a cost estimate not for the dollar amounts that were in the law, but the important thing was to make cost estimates recognizing that what was at stake was a system in which the benefits bore a fixed relationship with past earnings. Keeping up to date even beyond inflation.
Ball: So you derive from that the idea that it was the first COLA. But it's even more than the first COLA. It's really recognizing that the system is going to keep up to date, not with just the cost of living, but with the level of living of the community, and so the system will be liberalized to keep up with that. There are places in the 1948 Advisory Council report where you can find that kind of reasoning.
Interviewer: OK, so as a summary could I say that the idea was to maintain the replacement ratio of benefits? Is that a fair summary of what you just said?
Ball: I think it is fair to say all these things. And they're not necessarily completely consistent. But they are all part of the argument.
Ball: I think there was a recognition that the replacement rate was the most fundamental thing, and that it would be necessary to do that in making cost estimates and in fixing benefits on into the future.
Ball: But that was sort of a round, big idea, not part of the bargaining. In the actual bargaining about who is going vote for what, the more important idea was we have a system that keeps going up automatically, and the benefit formula itself goes up one per cent a year for everybody on top of the basic formula. We'll drop that. Just leave it out entirely, and only agree on what the basic formula would produce right away. Therefore the conservatives were willing to have that basic formula be much more liberal as long as it did not increase the cost above the current law.
And it was also recognized that the program had been neglected for the last 10 years, and if we are going to keep the program and not have it disappear, you had to immediately make it more effective, both by increasing benefits and making more people eligible. It was in danger of just being run out of existence by the competition of either public assistance, with higher means-tested benefits, or Townsend-like proposals of flat amounts, which were very much in the air at that time. So that the idea of retaining a wage-related system was at stake.
Interviewer: Was there an understanding at the time that once you established that idea--that it was necessary to keep benefits up to some standard of replacement rate-- once you had decided to do that in 1950, didn't it occur to folks that you would then have to raise benefits somewhere again down the road in order to maintain the system with that level of purchasing power?
Ball: It was never made as explicit as you are making it.
Ball: It was sort of a background point.
Interviewer: Because you couldn't use the same mechanism again to do that. You couldn't eliminate the increment again to make it cost-neutral. I mean if you were committing yourself to doing this again down the road, then you would have to face a tax increase or something, would you not?
Ball: No, no, no. That was the beauty of the way Bob Myers made the estimates. Bob decided on his own-but it was exactly what was needed-decided on his own to make estimates that left room for benefit increases without increasing tax rates. He left room for constant liberalization of the benefit formula-as wages rose. By making the underlying assumption that wages are not going to go up and prices are not going to go up, when they really do go up, as they will, and when wages run ahead of prices, as they will on average, then the new long-range cost estimates suddenly have a surplus.
Ball: And he used the new surplus in two ways. He used it first to make any corrections in his estimates that otherwise would have required him to cut back-it was a safety valve. For example, if you change the population assumptions regarding fertility rates, well then you could absorb that out of the fact that you now have a new surplus in the cost estimates. So the first thing he did was to absorb any problems from past estimates. And the second thing was he had a long-range surplus which could be used to liberalize benefits without tax increases. So he was making estimates, really, of a constantly liberalized program. It was never said quite in those terms, but that was it.
Ball: Or it was said only occasionally and obscurely.
Ball: Because there is a real dilemma in doing this, that Bob didn't really expose. And that is that in the back of the Trustees report you show large tax rate increases that are going to take care of your long-range costs. And yet you're operating a system entirely on a pay-as-you-go basis. You never really put those higher rates into effect. If they did, if they put those rates in the Trustees Reports, in effect, there would be huge surpluses from which a lot of benefits could be paid from the interest earned. But the Congress never allowed those rates to go in. They operated the system as pay-as-you-go, but they continued to make estimates as if there were going be tax increases later on. That's a slightly different point than we were talking about.
Interviewer: Now did you appreciate all of that back in 1950 when the Advisory Council was working. Did you have that as a conscious strategy in your mind, how you were going to further liberalize the program down the road?
Ball: Yes, I think I understood all of that. What I didn't understand was the desirability of having automatic cost of living provisions right in the law. I understood what Bob was doing, and in fact at the time, I was arguing that he ought to be making estimates with assumptions that showed increases in wages and prices.
Ball: In retrospect, I think I was probably wrong, because he had the perfect escape valve. We lost that in 1972 when the actuaries started making the estimates on a dynamic basis--you lost that safety valve. And that led to the difficulties of the late Seventies and early Eighties. If we'd had that same safety valve still it wouldn't have happened. Now we need to invent another type of safety valve.
Interviewer: Hmm. . . that's fascinating.
Ball: There were no financial problems in the public's mind for Social Security until we started to base estimates on rising wages and prices, which turned out to be wrong. If you don't have to estimate them then you accumulate the surplus. You can't assume flat wages and prices for the future, however, once the cat's out of the bag and you actually have provisions for automatic increases in the law.
Interviewer: The way Myers tells this story is that it certainly wasn't a strategy on his part to provide a mechanism to liberalize the program. This was a matter of high actuarial principle, from his point of view. That as long as there were no automatic increases in benefits in the law, it was not appropriate for him to put automatic increases in the estimates. And only after there were automatic provisions for benefit increases did it make sense, from actuarial point of view, to put in automatics for the wage assumptions as well. That's how he tells this story-in a very neutral sort of way.
Ball: It's not really a different story.
There are lots of early quotes from Myers in which he turns it around and says it's not his reason for doing it, but in effect that he is making estimates for a constant replacement rate. That's really a conservative thing to do. Because if you make your estimates as if nothing is going to happen in the future you are going to find you are short of money later on, because people will push up the benefits in the short run, because the long-run consequences are ignored. But they are going to find out when they get out there that the system has become completely inadequate- not just in prices, but it no longer gives people a reasonable relationship to the level of living they achieved while working. When they discover that, then you have to liberalize the program and you don't have the money to liberalize it, so the tax rates go up. So what he did was really a very conservative brake on the program. That's why back then many of us opposed what he was doing. But at same time that it was a conservative brake on the program, it was the program's protection against mistakes. And that would have got lost. So on the whole, I think in retrospect I like what he did. But I recognized that what he was doing was putting us in the position to constantly raise benefits to maintain an agreed upon replacement rate. That's what it did.
Interviewer: Without raising taxes.
Ball: Without raising taxes. And if people say they did it because of great actuarial principal, that's OK. (Laughs)
Interviewer: In terms of the discussions and the trade-offs in the Advisory Council itself, was this one of the core issues-this big increase in benefits?
Ball: Oh, sure. The big increase in the benefit was the most important thing.
Interviewer: That was the big issue.
Ball: The program was going to disappear without it. You know it wasn't doing anything significant. It was paying an average of twenty-three, twenty-four dollars a month to 20 per cent of the population over sixty five. Well, everybody had better plans than that. You could make flat benefit payments . . .
Interviewer: Assistance payments were higher than that.
Ball: Yes, around forty five dollars, as I remember, on average. The system was in real trouble in terms of people being willing to hold on to it. I thought that a wage-related contributory system, for all the reasons that had been given back in '35 and '39, was the right way to go, but we had to make it quickly effective or the politics would have said, "Well we'd better try something else this isn't working."
Interviewer: What about the expansion of coverage?
Ball: Well it's part of the same thing. It wasn't as critical. You could keep a program going, I suppose, with 60 percent of the population covered, but it was more a matter of justice, a matter of the function of the program. The reason you had the program was to protect people in retirement and to prevent poverty, and to do more than that, to pay benefits related to their past level of living. And every argument applied just as much to farmers or household workers or non-profit employees as it did to the ones already covered. So it was just an obvious extension of a good idea.
Interviewer: Was there any political division among the Council on that issue?
Ball: It had always been easier to get conservatives and liberals to agree on extension of coverage than any other matter. The basic position of the big insurance companies was, "we favor the program, everybody should be under it, but don't let the benefits get very high because we want to sell insurance and private pensions and one thing and another on top of what should be a basic 'floor protection'." So they wanted to leave plenty of room to build stuff on top. But expansion of coverage, yes sure, that's a good idea.
Now on specific things there were differences of opinion. You have issues around covering non-profits because of the possible precedent for taxing church-owned property. Then there was a question of conscience on part of some clergymen that had to be accommodated, the Amish had to be accommodated. So those were all exceptions. In the state and local area there was concern about constitutional objections, because, of course, legally Social Security contributions are a tax, and whether the Federal Government can tax a state for Social Security purposes raises constitutional questions for our federal system. The court decisions since then, until very recently, seem to have backed the idea that it was constitutional, that the Federal government can tax states and localities in this way. I'm not so sure about this current Court, it's beginning to look so states-rights orientated that . . .
Interviewer: Yes, I know, I know...
Ball: But anyway, generally speaking, extension of coverage is agreeable--to the extent it's feasible. That's the other thing, are there administrative problems in extending coverage. Obviously we know a lot about it now, about household employees, because until they changed the law so many people just weren't bothering to report their household employees, under the law fifty dollar requirement. It didn't seem high enough to make it feasible to strictly enforce it.
Interviewer: My impression about the '48-'49 Council was that it was a fairly harmonious Council, that there wasn't a lot of conflict. Is that true?
Ball: Well, the Councils generally have a key to them that worked--really right up until the Seventies-which was that they were a great place to work out differences between the two groups that mattered-business and labor. In those days the politics required that to make big changes in something like Social Security you had to have the support of labor and at least not the objection of business, insofar as you could determine a business position. The Chamber of Commerce had a committee, a Social Security Committee; the National Association of Manufacturers had a Social Security Committee. There were representatives of the insurance industry point of view, and of government, and of the big business point of view. So what the Council did typically--this was true of '39, this was true of '49 and on down for quite a while-was to have representatives of labor and representatives of business who can speak for their sections of the economy. Not just a business man, but somebody influential that when they speak can carry the business community with them. And labor, not just somebody from the Teamsters, which Republicans tried to get away with once, but somebody who can speak for labor. You've got labor and business gathering with a group of experts, who may have differing points of view, but at least know what they are talking about-all in an Advisory Council, and if they can agree-- business and labor and these experts can agree--it used to be that their recommendations would get adopted sooner or later. I think every major recommendation of the Advisory Councils of '39 and '47-'48 were ultimately adopted. We recommended in the Advisory Council of '47-'48 the beginning of a permanent and total disability insurance program. Well, they passed an assistance program for the disabled, but later on after a long, long time, disability insurance was adopted.
So that was a place where your political forces could come together, argue and agree on a set of recommendations which then were presented to the Congress where they had a very good chance of succeeding.
Interviewer: I guess maybe all successful Councils then are harmonious in the end.
Ball: Yes. On the basis that I described.
Ball: But it doesn't mean that one side or the other can really push something through, if the other side within the Council makes a strong objection.
An issue that was very important throughout those years related to what I described as a big insurance company position in favor of extension of coverage and against getting the benefits too high. A key point in all that was always how high should the maximum wage and benefit base be? If that goes up, the automatic accompaniment of it is higher benefits in the group that insurance companies see as a possible market, and you have a program that is increasingly middle class. So a lot of the Councils fought around the issue of how high that wage base should be. In the '47- '48 council we're talking about, it ended up with a spread of the labor people and Sumner Schlicter, as I remember, favoring forty-eight hundred. I am not sure of this, I would have to check it or you could check it. I think all the Council recommended was going from three thousand to thirty-six hundred. It may have been forty-two hundred, which was a point that there was agreement on for a while.
Marion Folsom reversed himself on the wage base issue. He is, by the way, a perfect example of a business leader who was shown a lot of respect by the rest of business. He made a big study of Social Security. He had chaired at one time both the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers Committees. And the Business Round Table. He was like the Mr. Social Security of Business. And then of course he became Secretary of HEW. But he couldn't get too far ahead of the business community. He actually favored a higher wage base than he could persuade business to back. So he voted for a higher amount the first time through, but he came back and changed it before the report went out.
Schlicter on the other hand, said, "I don't see any reason why we have any maximum." (Laughs) He was Acting Chair of the Council in effect. Stettinius, the formal Chair of the Council, never paid a lot of attention. Schlicter though paid a lot of attention and always acted like the Chair after the first couple of meetings. But he came back to a realistic position and sided with labor on forty-eight hundred. But that's not enough. That left the same split out in the community and in the Congress, that already existed. It is only if the Council could bring it together that could you get real action.
That is why in this last '94-'96 Council I had a real difference of viewpoint as to what a successful Council should do. I took its job to be the development of proposals, that by reason of having agreement within the Council, could present recommendations to the Congress which had a good chance of passing, by reason of drawing the support of labor and business and other groups. It didn't turn out that way at all. After a few tries the Chairman clearly was satisfied with presenting to the country and the Congress three types of plans which he thought were each a good plan of its kind, and then to let the country and the Congress decide what they want to do. So that was a different view. His background as a teacher of graduate seminars, I think, led him in the direction of intellectually visualizing competing ideas that you could hone and put forward. My view was it was a failure if you weren't able to make majority recommendations with some chance of passing. So it broke down to some extent on this different view of the Council. But it didn't used to be like this, it used to be a place to bargain for an agreement.
Interviewer: OK. I want to talk later in more detail about the '94-'96 council so I am not going to follow up on that now.
Ball: Well, I brought it up because I think it marked a big difference.
Interviewer: Yes, I agree. I understand. Well at the end of your work on the Council you came back to SSA . .
Ball: Not immediately, but very quickly. Two months.
Interviewer: OK, two months. I guess my first question is, was that your plan all along? Did you expect to come back to SSA? Were you planning to come back to SSA?
Ball: No, I hadn't really thought about it one way or the other. I hadn't thought of what I was going to do next. Where I had been before I went to the Advisory Council, and from which I took leave in effect, was a little operation that Karl de Schweinitz and I put together and staffed. We and a secretary was all there was to the operation. It was financed entirely by funds that he had raised from small personal foundations of wealthy friends of his. It didn't take an awful lot for us to operate. This was an organization that conducted training for two groups of people. One was the top executives in the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance and other federal agencies, the top staff of the other federal agencies. And heads of state agencies in the fields of unemployment insurance, and public welfare, and also the Railroad Retirement Board and other related activities of that sort. The second group were University and college professors who taught subjects in these areas--although usually not as a full-time specialty--but as part of a two or four week course within a longer course, like "labor problems" or sociology or economics or something else.
Interviewer: Now, what would you be teaching Bureau executives?
Ball: There were three subjects that really ran through these courses. One was what I taught, which was the general philosophy, direction, history, and alternatives in the broad field of Social Security, social insurance, welfare, public assistance, and so on. Another subject was Human Relations, which was usually taught, but not always, by Beth de Schweinitz, Karl's wife, who was a psychiatric social worker. She was really very, very good at the underlying motivations and human personalities that are involved in the people that you supervise and that you have to understand in yourself and in the people that you're dealing with. So, it was Human Relations. And, believe me, a lot of executives could use it. (Laughs) And, then the other subject was broader administrative issues, which Karl did. At one time, he was head of the Department of Welfare in the State of Pennsylvania. Another time he was Director of the School of Social Work in Philadelphia. So, he taught broad administration.
These were discussions, you understand. These were almost all discussion groups of 12 to 20 people sitting around a table and going at issues. Adults in positions that are so exalted as that aren't likely to take kindly to the idea of somebody just sitting there teaching them. You have to seduce them into learning (Laughs), particularly if you are a lot younger than the students.
Interviewer: So, you did that for four or five years?
Ball: No, maybe three years. I mean, I could get dates . . .
Interviewer: I probably have it somewhere.
Ball: But, this is a long preliminary to answer your question specifically.
Interviewer: No, that's all right. I want to know about this.
Ball: Our Board of Directors for this operation, which came to be called the University Government Center on Social Security, was Arthur Altmeyer, Doug Brown, Lloyd Short, who was Head of the School of Public Administration in Minnesota . .Nelson Cruikshank was a member of the Board too, I think. Anyway, I was continually working with these people-- Altmeyer was continually talking at our seminars, or at a dinner meeting, or what have you, and the Head of the Children's Bureau would speak at a session, and so on. I was continually involved with these people all the time. So when they were trying to think of a Staff Director for this Advisory Council for the Senate Finance Committee--which insisted that it could not just be someone borrowed from the Social Security Administration, they had to have an outside expert--the competition wasn't very tough. There weren't a whole lot of outside experts on the existing Social Security program at that time. Most of them worked for the government. So, anyway, Cruikshank, Doug Brown, Wilbur Cohen and Altmeyer all thought I would be a great choice for Staff Director of this Advisory Council, for the very good reason that I agreed with them. (Laughs) So, they went to work on promoting me for the job. And, that's how I got the job.
I just left to do that job. I expected . . . I mean, I didn't have any long range plans anyhow. But, I expected to come back to the University Government Center if there was anything there. We were a pretty hand-to-mouth operation. It wasn't at all clear that there would still be enough money to run an organization like that. I don't know at what time Altmeyer asked me to come back after the Advisory Council. I would guess it was probably near the end, or after it was over, in the first few months of 1949, because there was a vacancy then in this Assistant Director job. Which was the kind of thing I would be interested in, unlike the things they offered me when I left. It was exactly the job I would like in government. That's how that happened.
Interviewer: We talked a little bit already about when you came back and Alvin took a position up in the Commissioner's Office. What else happened immediately around that time when you came back? Did you end up playing a role, back in SSA, in staffing the development of the 1950 Amendments?
Ball: Not to any large extent. Let's see, we're talking the 1950 Amendments. As I remember it, before I became very much involved, the bill had gone through the House. And I actually was still on the outside at the time of the hearings in the House because I remember Schlicter and I went up to testify together before old Doughton, who was Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. And I was back more or less in the University Government Center. Although I was at SSA during the Senate consideration, but the Senate seldom does anywhere near as much as the House does. The House goes at a bill in great detail and spends months on it; the Senate takes what they get from the House and makes changes, so it doesn't cover anything like the same time period.
I had quite a bit to do with some of the 1952 Amendments. There were two pieces of legislation as I remember. It was the 1952 Amendments that included that wonderful Wilbur Cohen "Rube Goldberg" arrangement where we passed a Social Security Disability freeze that went out of existence before it took effect. It had to be the '52 Amendments.
Interviewer: Yes, it was the '52. Because in 1954 you did a real freeze.
Ball: Yes, and also I think there was a piece of separate legislation that I was responsible for, probably in the summer of '52--just a straight benefit increase of 12.5 %, as I remember. That was my idea. Wilbur was out of town, and it was getting very near the election. And I thought that the Democrats on Ways and Means would be glad to up the benefits a bit before the election. I was trying hard to find ways to improve the system more. And so, I went up and talked to them. That went through as a separate bill in 1952. So, I was in charge for the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance of the whole legislative process.
Nothing seems to really just stand out much in my mind except sitting around in the Ways and Means Committee Room, just off the Capitol, where the House and the Senate Conferees meet. I remember that, and that's where Wilbur got this, this notion (laughs) of at least let's put that limited freeze in.
Interviewer: Well, OK. Let's talk about that for a second. The story that I understood about that provision was that Chairman Doughton was in favor of--I don't know if he was in favor of disability benefits or in favor of a freeze-- but the Committee, his committee, wasn't in favor entirely and that in order to sort of give a gesture to the Chairman, they put in this provision that expired before it took effect. For some reason, I've picked up that story. Does that make any sense?
Ball: I don't think so. No, I don't think so. I think Doughton had no trouble controlling his own Committee. It was in the Conference. The Senate was stuck with the House provision because there was no comparable provision in the Senate bill. And the compromise was to pass the House proposal but drop it before it took effect. Doughton had the nickname of "Muley Doughton." To get the conference to move ahead you had to get him to agree to something and Wilbur just really proposed this as a way to get the conference moving again-and it stuck. We had a little rationale for it because then we had a basis to carry out more planning and analysis because all the details weren't written in. But, there really wasn't any good reason for it expect to make the Conference move and get it off the center.
Interviewer: OK. So you came back to SSA sometime in early 1950. And you were Assistant Bureau Director for Program Analysis.
Ball: I came in '1949.
Interviewer: OK, '49. And then in 1952, the Republicans were elected, and the Eisenhower Administration came into office in 1953. Now, you mentioned before that Altmeyer inserted this line in your job description and kicked you up to being Acting Bureau Director after Pogge left. So, in 1953 you were Acting Bureau Director when the new Administration came in . . .
Ball: Right, I was Acting Bureau Director for about a year before we got a Republican substitute.
Interviewer: Then Vic Christgau came in.
Ball: Yes, and he came with the understanding that I would stay as Deputy under him.
We immediately had action as soon as the Eisenhower Administration came in because Oveta Culp-Hobby appointed this group, that came to be known as the "Hobby Lobby," and she was forced to expand it by labor and liberals pushing the notion that she was consulting with people about Social Security, but they were all conservative businessmen. So, she enlarged it to include Lula Dunne, the Executive in Public Welfare, and Nelson Cruikshank, and Eve Burns.
At the same time, Carl Curtis, a Republican, was heading his Subcommittee of the Ways and Means, pushing for his flat-benefit plan. And, Folsom is Undersecretary of the Treasury and this group of Hobby Lobbyists is considering the whole program. There's a lot going on in that year or two.
Interviewer: Well, let me just talk about a couple of institutional things. Of course, Altmeyer had to leave in '53 and some other folks were pushed out eventually like Izzy Falk, and Wilbur Cohen got shifted into a job as head of Research and Statistics. So there was some institutional adjustment to the coming of the Eisenhower Administration. Did any of that affect you? How did you cope with the coming of the Eisenhower Administration? Was it a strain for you that way it was for Wilbur Cohen and I.S. Falk?
Ball: Falk was associated with the idea pushing for national health insurance. There was no chance they were going to keep him. Wilbur was put into a regular civil service job as head of Research and then ignored. They just went around him and didn't pay much attention to him, and he left because he wasn't really influential or doing anything. On the other hand, I got very quickly accepted by Oveta Culp-Hobby. The first thing that happened was that Altmeyer sent me to her when she asked for someone to provide staff support to this group of outside advisors that she had formed.
Interviewer: Oh, so you were the staff?
Ball: I was the Staff Director of the Hobby Lobby.
Ball: I knew most of the people, I knew the business men too-Rheine Hohaus--I'd worked with him a lot before. So, I got to know her through that quickly. And the only top level hold-over from the previous administration that was able to maintain his position was Rufus Miles, who was the Assistant Secretary for Administration, I guess they called it. But, it was all the services, budgeting and management services, and so on. And, he was very close to Mrs. Hobby.
She was quite unsure of herself for the first two or three months, not surprisingly. The New Deal had been operating for twenty years. The Republicans looked on the Civil Service, I think, with considerable merit, as a bunch of Democrats in favor of the New Deal, and they were not very trusting of the Civil Service. For the first few months, she dealt mostly with Rufus Miles, and a staff person that she brought with her, and me. She seemed to develop gradually some confidence in me, out of the relationship that developed around this advisory group. I had her over at SSA to tour the operations and things like that. So that worked out easily and fine after a while.
But, they didn't even know whether they were going to support the Social Security program at the beginning, to say nothing of me. I remember going to one of the Regional Conferences which we used to have all the time. This one was in West Point, probably fairly early in 1953. I tried to get Mrs. Hobby to send some kind of a message that I could give to these managers who were running this program all over the country. Something a little reassuring because, as I say, the Democrats had been in for twenty years, nobody knew whether Eisenhower was for it or against it. But she wouldn't do it, she wouldn't let me say anything about it. And, the Curtis hearings had started--I was a major witness for about three days in a row. Hostile questioning the whole time. Mrs. Hobby in effect said to me--these are not her words, but the general idea was,--"Well go up and see how you do, we'll make up our mind later on." (Laughs) No real support at all.
But, gradually, over a few months, particularly with the operation of the Hobby Lobby and her visiting Baltimore and, I guess, talking to people, she came to support me. Of course I was a Civil Servant. I mean, there was never any question of me being made the Bureau Director. I had never expected, or suggested, or even wanted that. I didn't want to be an official in a Republican Administration. But I was the Acting Director and when they were looking for a Director, she saw no reason to drop me, and they were really glad to have me stay as a Deputy. And they had Assistant Secretaries come in and she started a whole re-examination of the program. Nelson Rockefeller came in as Under-Secretary. A young lawyer on his legal staff, Rod Perkins, became Assistant Secretary for Legislation. But, before that, as just a consultant, I guess, he ran nearly a complete review of the whole Social Security program.
Interviewer: Rockefeller did?
Ball: No, Rod Perkins did. And he would spend days and days with me on all aspects of the program. And, as I say, he later became Assistant Secretary. So I got accepted, certainly as a top-ranking civil servant, they never thought I was an Eisenhower insider, which was true.
Interviewer: I didn't realize those Bureau Director jobs were political appointments.
Ball: No, they were not, none of them were.
Interviewer: So, the Bureau Director was a political appointee?
Ball: Well, not theoretically. By the Bureau Director, you mean Oscar Pogge?
Interviewer: Yes, Oscar Pogge and also I.S. Falk. I mean, I'm surprised that Falk had to quit. I know they pushed Falk out, but I didn't know that he would've been considered a political appointee.
Ball: I'm sure he wasn't. But, they would consider him that. But, I'm not sure what the technical status was. Wilbur was certainly a Civil Servant.
Ball: I don't know what the technical status of Oscar Pogge was; but you can't stay around running an organization like that if the people above want you to go.
Interviewer: I understand.
Ball: So, that was it.
Interviewer: Now when Vic Christgau came, I guess he would've been considered a political appointee.
Ball: The fact that I don't even know for sure is revealing, I think, because it didn't matter that much. He was clearly appointed because he was a Republican.
Ball: Wilbur and I had searched our brains for months trying to come up with a liberally inclined Republican who had experience in at least some branch of social insurance. And Christgau had been the Director of Minnesota Unemployment Insurance, really Employment Security, which is both the Employment Service and Unemployment Insurance. He had a very good reputation with Altmeyer and Cohen and people like that who dealt with these problems from the federal angle. And Christgau was a former Congressman. So we really got his name into the pot, indirectly of course. If he'd become known as our candidate, he wouldn't have been appointed. But it was a reasonable appointment to make. A former Republican Congressman who seems to know something about similar programs.
So, he came and he talked with me and he said, "I'm not coming unless you agree to stay." He didn't want the job of total responsibility for something that big that he really didn't know anything about. But, when I said I'd stay, he agreed to come. And he delegated pretty much the job of running the place to me for the next ten years. He was always very good to work with. And as long as it was recognized that he had the job and he was the top guy, it worked out. He always said, "The person that knows most about it, ought do it." And, that's where he left it. (Laughs)
Interviewer: Now, did he have an interest in the policy parts of the Bureau's job? Did he want you to be sort of the Chief Operating Officer, or did he defer to you on both aspects of the job?
Ball: Both aspects.
Ball: But interesting enough, he wasn't lazy, and he wasn't indifferent. He liked the program a lot, he was very much for it. He liked the guys who worked there. And, he loved to go to Regional Conferences and play poker with the managers, and tell stories, and stuff. He was very strong for the program and he worked hard at his job. It's just that he let me run it, that's all. It is an unusual personality that can do that. A lot of people can feel kind of threatened in that situation and feel that they really ought to act like the boss. (Laughs) But . . .
Interviewer: Well, that might be partly a testament to you too Bob--to your personality.
Ball: Well, we got along easily, and I was certainly eager for him to take the spotlight when that was the thing to do. I mean, I wasn't interested in being thought of through organization to be running it. It became an assumption on the part of the people in Washington that I dealt with from the Congress and the Department--they assumed that I was running it. But I was certainly not interested that the organization itself should ever think that. So, we just worked easily together. He was the Bureau Director and I was his Deputy.
Interviewer: Let's try to pick up and discuss maybe some issues around the creation of the disability program. One question that Ed had for you was whether you worked with Senator Kerr on disability insurance back in 1956 during that period when, I guess, Kerr was involved in disability? What was your role?
Ball: Well, Kerr was more or less in charge of the work on disability insurance in the Senate Finance Committee. He asked Folsom to detail me up to his office. So, that's what I did. Kerr needed all kinds of technical help to draft a bill that carried out his intentions. And I was up there helping him.
Interviewer: When are we talking about? '54? '55? '56?
Interviewer: OK. So this is the 1956 Amendments-including cash disability benefits?
The lack of permanent and total disability was a real hole in the program at the beginning. Most foreign systems treat the risk of long-term and total disability as a basic part of their three-part system that deals with long range risks: retirement, death and total disability. It is frequently called "invalidity insurance" in the foreign systems. There was a lot of opposition to it in the United States. The insurance companies had tried it themselves in the '20s and had lost a lot of money. They frequently used it as kind of a loss-leader. To get their customers to be attracted to a basic insurance plan-they would attach disability, or disability riders to it. It turned out when there was a lot of unemployment they lost a lot of money. And they figured, I guess, that if they couldn't do it, the government certainly couldn't. And so they opposed it partly I think because they didn't like the idea of the government moving into any new insurance branches at all, and partly because of their own bad experience with it.
It was one of the big issues that came up again in the 1947-48 Council when the insurance companies went out pretty strongly to oppose the Council doing anything in the area. They talked the Council into putting an expert from the Monarch Life Insurance Company on the staff of the Council, as well as had the Metropolitan Life Insurance people from the Actuary Department, Rheine Hohaus' department, also with the staff. But nevertheless, the Council came up with a recommendation for a very conservative, but nonetheless, a beginning of a disability insurance program.
Then we have that series of enactments which begins with Wilbur Cohen's temporary disability freeze, in 1952. Then in 1954, we actually had a Republican administration support what amounts to a "waiver of premium"-the so-called disability freeze. Rod Perkins, for example, who was Assistant Secretary for Legislation then, and later a very strong opponent of disability insurance benefit payments, favored the waiver of premium. Partly on the ground, I think, that if you did that--and that could be justified as part of the basic program-- it would help take the steam out of at least one of the arguments in favor of having a cash disability program. And that argument is that the absence of a waiver of premium provision really threatens the eligibility of the disabled worker for regular survivor's protection or for retirement protection. So, he really favored the freeze in '54.
Now we come to '56 and you have what develops as a strong opposition within the Eisenhower Administration-over the objection, really, of Marion Folsom. Folsom was a strong supporter of Social Security in general--since before there was a Social Security Act, when he was Secretary-Treasurer of the Eastman Kodak Company and favored Kodak having its own unemployment insurance program, as well as a retirement program, and so on. He had a liberal view towards the government's role, and he really wanted the Administration to back a Social Security benefit program. He talked with me about it many times, and had me develop alternatives for him that would be best designed to have a chance to get the Eisenhower Administration's support. We rang the changes on proposals that would have a high age eligibility requirement so that it could be thought of entirely as an early retirement program for the disabled. We tried age 50, we tried 55, we even tried age 60 as the beginning of a possible disability program. But he couldn't get the Administration to support it at all.
So, as I said, Kerr, who needed help, asked Folsom to lend me to his staff on detail to help him on disability. And I did that. Then Folsom had to go up and testify for the Administration against the disability insurance bill that was before the Senate Finance Committee, which was Senator Kerr's bill. He had to go up and oppose it. Well, his Assistant Secretary for Legislation, Rod Perkins, although he had supported the freeze in '54, not only supported the Eisenhower Administration opposition, but personally was very strongly opposed to moving into cash benefits. And, what Folsom did was to have me and Perkins, together, write his testimony for the Senate Finance Committee. He wanted me to be sure that, to the extent possible, he avoided making any kind of commitments that would come back to haunt him if he was able to get a change in the Administration's position a couple of years later. Or if, when he was out of government, he would argue in favor of it and not have left too many traps around for himself that would come back to haunt him. So we--Perkins and I--worked on this all night, with a very good speech writer that Folsom had named Charlie Bartlett. Bartlett would type and Perkins and I would fight and Bartlett would actually bargain between the two of us and decide in the end on what words should go in. All night long this went on. And, of course I was a civil servant and Perkins was an Eisenhower Administration appointee, but I knew what Folsom wanted me to do and I did my best. And we finished up literally handing Folsom his testimony as he walked out the door to go to Senate Finance Committee for a ten o'clock hearing. His testimony clearly takes a position against moving into disability insurance; but you could read it to mean, "not now." (Laughs) Not in so many words. But, he isn't tied forever to this opposition as a matter of great principle, as Perkins really wanted him to be.
Interviewer: What about Senator Kerr's proposal? Did you have a hand in the version of the legislation that the Finance Committee turned out?
Ball: Oh, yes. Sure. Some interesting little side lights went on in that executive session. Rod and I were both there together, and he explains what's in the bill to the Committee, even though he opposes it. There used to be in a fairly close relationship between the Senate Finance Committee and the staff of what was then HEW, and also Ways and Means and the staff of HEW. We were in their executive sessions almost all the time, always I would say in Ways and Means, and most of the time in Senate Finance--although once in a while they'd throw us out. So, he was explaining it to the Committee. And old Senator Byrd--his son later became a Senator too, but the old Harry Byrd, was Chairman of the Committee--and he listens to Perkins for awhile, and he stops him and says, "I want that man there to explain it to me, he knows how to do it." (Laughs)
Interviewer: (Laughs) Pointing at you.
Ball: Yes, he points at me and makes me come up in front and take Perkins' place to explain it to him.
Interviewer: Well, he's right, you know. You are a master at taking complicated subjects and explaining them in clear terms that we can understand.
Ball: Well, I'd been working with these Committees, you know, and very frequently in the Conference Committees between the House and the Senate. I should say, in those days, they didn't have much in the way of Committee staff. In general they had what they called a Clerk of the Committee--who was really the top guy, the chief of staff, but they called him a Clerk-who would be the staff for everything. They were primarily tax Committees, but they also had Social Security and other things to deal with. But that's about all they really had by way of staff, they wouldn't really have other experts. They would have to rely a great deal on the Legislative Counsel's Office of the Senate and House, who wrote the legislation-and they were very good. And they relied a lot on the Executive Branch staff. As I started to say, Wilbur Mills very often would ask me to explain the House provisions to the Senate and the Senate provisions to the House, as the Conference Committee went over the bills, giving the points for and against each side.
Interviewer: In the conference?
Ball: In the conference.
Interviewer: You'd be sitting in the conference.
Ball: Sitting in the Conference Committee between the Senate and the House and they were trusting me to give an objective statement about what this really did and what that really did, and so on. And, even occasionally letting me make an argument for what I saw as the best way to resolve this or that issue. It's all the little tiny stuff that you have to go through, as well as the big ideas. You can't just throw to a Conference Committee the notions that are significant or philosophically great or have a big impact. Every little change between the two bills has to be acknowledged and reconciled. You could tell them, "This is nothing but a technical change, and this fits in better with the legislation." The Legislative Counsel would be right there to agree. And then all the big issues had to be resolved. It wasn't at all clear in those roles that I was working for the Executive Branch, according to the Constitution. I was doing what certainly an employee of the Congress would do today.
The point I was just making in response to your question is that I had explained a lot of things to these guys in various roles in the past and they knew me. Perkins was a new person to them. And they had no interest in following protocol or being diplomatic, they wanted . . .
Interviewer: They didn't have to be.
Ball: "I can understand what he's saying, let him do it." (Laughs)
Ball: But, it didn't exactly endear me to Perkins that day. (Laughs)
Interviewer: Yes, I can imagine. So, how did that all play out, with the Administration opposed to adding a disability program.
Ball: Well, it was extraordinarily close. In the end-I think the record shows--it probably passed by two or three votes. But, actually by a single vote. What happens frequently is that a Senator will commit himself to vote for your position, but only if you need his vote. He will tell the Chairman, "If you actually need my vote, I'll do it, but I don't want do it. If possible, I want to vote on the other side. So, if you've got the votes for passage I'll feel free to vote the other way." So, although it looks like there was a three or four vote margin there, it was that kind of a situation. They really only had it by one vote. (I'd probably have to check to be absolutely positive which vote this was, because disability came up a couple times and was defeated by a very close vote and then passed by a very close vote.) The votes were close because of the opposition, the combined opposition, of the insurance companies and all of business--but the insurance companies made the policy.
Interviewer: And the American Medical Association?
Ball: And the American Medical Association. So, that's what made it close all the time. But, there was a tricky situation in which the three or four extreme conservatives among the Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee were so annoyed at the Eisenhower Administration that they wanted to put Nixon on the spot and make him break a tie. He was Vice President. They wanted him to break the tie, they wanted to put him in what they thought was an embarrassing position for him to oppose this bill because they knew he had political ambitions for the future. So it was McCarthy, of Wisconsin I think, who actually made the motion, or made the move, in which he supported the disability insurance program, and so did Malone and a couple of other extreme conservatives, in order to make for a tie. So that Nixon would have to come in and break it in a direction that would be politically damaging to him. They had safe seats, they didn't care, they were just trying to raise hell with Eisenhower. Eisenhower was the wrong wing of the party for them. And I can't remember if that was on final passage or the year before, but that could be checked.
Interviewer: Right, before we get too far, I just want to make sure we've closed out the Hobby Lobby, and also around that same time there was the Chamber of Commerce proposal, in the first year of Eisenhower Administration, which was essentially a flat benefit proposal. Both of those were going on, sort of testing whether the Eisenhower Administration was going to commit to Social Security program or not. It seemed uncertain for awhile what the Administration's position was going to be. How did that play out, and did you have any involvement in the Chamber proposal issue?
Ball: Yes, a lot. The Hobby Lobby really helped a lot, as did Folsom while Under Secretary at Treasury, and later he took Hobby's place, of course. But they just gradually moved into adopting the program and extending its coverage. You can't extend coverage to something you don't believe in, so all those business guys, conservatives on the Hobby Lobby, really gave basic support to the program and to its extension. And that was people like Sonny Marshall at General Electric, Rheinie Hohaus at Metropolitan Life and then of course Folsom's influence from the outside.
Now, Marshall was a strong supporter of the Commerce position. And, I guess I better just briefly tell you again what the Chamber of Commerce proposal was. The Chamber of Commerce had the notion that it was dangerous to have only a small proportion of the elderly getting benefits at this early stage of the program because it didn't cost very much, because only, say, 20 per cent were getting benefits. It didn't cost very much to give them more, in a pay-as-you-go type financing. And their strategy, in light of that, was to get everybody eligible for some kind of a benefit so that you'd have a big cost right away. And if you're going to pay 100 per cent of people, instead of 20 per cent, it's going cost you a lot of money to raise the benefits.
Interviewer: And then we won't raise the benefits. That was the end point of their agenda, right?
Ball: Yes, or we won't raise them as much. There's a certain rationale. They feared you might sneak in the idea of a high level of benefits under the mistaken notion that it wasn't going to cost you very much because you didn't give it to very many people, and then as years went on, everybody would get it, and there would be a big cost. What the guard against that has always been the long-range cost estimates, and they're much more effective than people give them credit for, as long as you have a Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee like Mills who would always end up a legislative session asking, "Now, is this actuarially sound in terms of the long run?" And the program always had in it enough money, according to the estimates, to finance it on into the future, not just for now. But anyway, that was the theory of the Chamber's plan.
So, they proposed that you do what was called "blanketing in,"that is, blanket in all the current aged, without regard to any past earnings record or contributions into the program, and pay everybody a flat amount, the same basic flat amount for everybody, and then have people who had earnings record from contributions get a little bit more than this flat amount. So that you would move into what has been called, a "double decker" system in the long run. But the key thing was immediately having everybody, I mean all the elderly, eligible for a benefit right off.
Labor was very much opposed to this, as were Democrats in general. The fear was that the variable part above the minimum would never be allowed to develop. If most people were getting a flat amount, the push would be to increase that flat amount, if it's inadequate, to increase it for everybody. And the wage-relationship would be lost. Well, what was so bad about that? Well, what was bad about it is they knew that the bottom amount would be low, and it would be kept low, so they were concerned about this being an adequate program if you did it this way.
The Democrats thought that only a system related to wages, with variable benefit amounts, had any chance in this country of being adequate. Because otherwise you'd give the flat amount to the parts of the country which had low levels of earnings and they knew the Southern Congressmen at that time would not want to pay blacks, for example, a relatively high flat amount. They'd want to keep it a low amount. So there you could have powerful forces always against making the program adequate.
But the Chamber of Commerce proposal was quite vulnerable politically from one angle. It proposed using the regular contributions that workers were making currently, and the build up in the Trust Funds, to pay these flat benefits to people who had never made any contributions and who had no record of past wages. They could have rolled the labor movement and won had they been willing to pay these flat benefits out of General Revenues and kept the rest of Social Security's financing solely for the wage-related benefit, but they weren't willing to do that. That was part of the problem, they didn't want to spend the money. So, it was defeated, pretty decisively, on the kind of reasoning that I'm suggesting.
Now Congressman Curtis, who was pressing his own views at the same time had a similar approach, except he didn't bother with that part about the wage-related business on top. He just was for junking the program and paying a flat amount, and out of some other kind of a tax, not on a percentage of past wages. It's pretty hard to support a flat benefit out of a percent of wage financing, although that's what a group on the last Advisory Council proposed. That's another story.
Interviewer: OK, we'll come to that. Who persuaded the Eisenhower Administration not to support the Chamber proposal? Did it just come to that view from the reasoning that you just gave me, or did they have to be sort of persuaded to that view and did you play any role in that? Do you know how that happened?
Ball: Well, I don't know how high up it went. Folsom was persuaded, and Hobby became persuaded in the course of the Hobby Lobby and one thing and another. And there just wasn't the support for it in the country; they couldn't have done it if they wanted to.
Ball: Labor's cry that they were taking the money that people had been contributing for their own benefits, to give it to a lot of people who hadn't contributed, was enough to kill it.
Interviewer: What else do we need to talk about in disability?
Ball: There's a whole bunch of stuff that revolves around the decision to administer the program strictly from the beginning. It barely passed and the opposition argument all the time, was the government isn't going to be able to keep this from being just a political shoveling out of money and that government is incapable of running a strict program. We decided, not just in this, but in general terms, that you really shouldn't liberalize a program like social insurance by the administrators pushing the edge of the envelope. But that rather we should administer the program the best we possibly could in terms of the view that we think the dominant figures in Congress took. They clearly wanted a strict, tough approach to this administration. Well, we gave it to them, and their immediate reaction, strong reaction was, "Hey, we didn't mean for you to not pay people. We want these benefits paid. The way you guys are running this thing, you have to be in bed dying before you make any payments."
So, they set up a committee to investigate the administration of the disability program--under Burr Harrison. I began using charts a lot about that time, and I made a big chart talk to the Harrison subcommittee, and we toured them through every operation at SSA. They spent a lot of time on it. Burr Harrison was very conscientious and they came to the conclusion, "Yeah, I think they are doing what we told them to but, we should not have told them that" (Laughs)
And so they changed the law, which is the right way to do it. They liberalized the program so that, out of that development, we got a much better program than we could have. If we had moved in the direction we thought we really should from the social standpoint, they would've had a boomerang reaction and they would've said, "tighten up," and instead they said, "loosen up." So, there's a pretty good story in all of that.
Interviewer: All right, well, let me carry on with some of Ed's questions here. Ed wants to know if you were expecting to be picked as Commissioner in 1961 when Kennedy came in? And, when you weren't picked, was that a surprise and a disappointment to you initially?
Ball: Did I expect to be picked? Maybe. Certainly I thought it was a real possibility, and at the same time, I was far from certain of it and I wasn't a bit surprised that, on Wilbur Cohen's advice, they kept Bill Mitchell. Wilbur was always very much interested, or I should say that he reflected Altmeyer's strong interest, in trying to make the whole operation of the program, non-political. Wilbur was always trying to carry out what he thought Altmeyer would have done and wanted to do. Whenever they could, they would take actions that would emphasize continuity. The idea was that the top jobs were not political jobs; that they were intended to be impartial administrators of the program for all the people. So, keeping Bill Mitchell to demonstrate the continuity was very understandable and not a surprise. That was an equal expectation on my part, and was perfectly acceptable. Because they, in effect, said to me, "Bill is only going to stay a year or two and we certainly have you in mind." So, I had no objection. I don't know what I'd do if I had an objection. (Laughs)
Besides, what I was doing was much more important. The Commissioner's job, as such, has had its ups and downs. When Altmeyer was there--and he was there for thirteen years I guess--he really ran things. And to the extent he wanted to, he would be in anything and do it. Old Age and Survivor's Insurance was the only direct line operation in SSA, and one of the very few in the federal government; that is, something run by federal employees all across the country. Most of SSA's programs were grant-in-aid programs, or like in unemployment insurance, the Feds just paid the administrative cost, and they could influence policy, but they really weren't in control. Well, gradually, the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance, being so large, it had all the services that an independent organization would have. The duplication occurred at the Commissioner's level. I mean, OASDI would have a real Training Office, with quite a few people, running big programs. The Commissioner's office would have a Training Office with two guys in it, to oversee training that was being done in the various Bureaus. The same with personnel, the same with budgets. They would be reviewing budgets, but they wouldn't have nearly the staff that something like OASDI would have.
Well, I was running the biggest part of the organization directly and Bill Mitchell really wasn't when he became the Commissioner. Altmeyer, yes. But when Bill came in, what I was doing in comparison with what Bill was doing, was much bigger, more important, had more effect, and so on. So, when I became Commissioner, I really made the Commissioner the Bureau Director. Over a period of a few moves, I pretty much abolished the Bureau of Old Age, Survivor's and Disability Insurance. I got Secretary Ribicoff to set up a new Commissioner, a Welfare Commissioner, for that part of the old Social Security Commissioner's job. And what the Social Security Administration became, within the first year, was very largely the Bureau of Old Age, Survivor's and Disability Insurance with the Commissioner running the program directly, without an intervening person and Christgau became the Deputy to me, as Deputy Commissioner.
Interviewer: Did he have that title, Deputy Commissioner?
Ball: I think so.
Ball: I think so, yes. Then Art Hess became Deputy Commissioner after that; but I'm pretty sure we called Victor Christgau Deputy Commissioner first. It was still a civil service job.
Interviewer: Right. It occurred to me that, before we go on, I want to ask you just about some of the other people that were Commissioner in between Altmeyer and Mitchell and yourself, the Republican Commissioners, the Eisenhower Commissioners. First, I guess, Mitchell, who was Acting for a while. Then we had John Tramburg and then Charles Schottland. And, I just wanted you to talk about them a little bit and tell me how you worked with them or anything that comes to mind.
Ball: Well, the key thing is that both Tramburg and Schottland were perfectly willing to delegate the operation of the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance pretty much to me. They worked mostly with the rest of the organization. Mitchell was the Deputy Commissioner up until the time that Kennedy came in and then for about a year they made him Commissioner.
Interviewer: Well he was Commissioner a little bit longer than that. Schottland left in early 1959 and Mitchell became Commissioner then and he stayed on into the Kennedy Administration when you took over in early 1962.
Ball: That's right, that's right, he was Commissioner as they came in.
Interviewer: Mitchell was also Acting Commissioner when Altmeyer left, for six months at the start of the Eisenhower Administration.
Ball: Right. Yes, Bill was shocked when Rockefeller came to him and the first move was he was going to go. Mitchell thought he was a career employee. Even though he was the Commissioner, he nevertheless expected to be kept. And that was the concept that Altmeyer and Cohen wanted to reinforce, when the presidency came back to the Democrats. But, when the Republicans came in, they had not intended to keep Mitchell. He was just shocked that they would think of his leaving. (Laughs)
Interviewer: What about Tramburg and Schottland?
Ball: They were really very supportive of Social Security. They weren't picked by accident. They were really the result of a real search by Lula Dunne, who was the Director of the American Public Welfare Association, and Wilbur Cohen, and me to an extent. Where would you look for a Commissioner? Well, public welfare really. These people were pretty much sought out by supporters of the Social Security program and they were very light Republicans. They had served in Republican administrations back in the States, but to all intents and purposes, they behaved just like Democrats, as far as policy and philosophy is concerned, though of course they worked with their political superiors in the Department. They were both quite strong people. They were quite willing to stand up and fight for something. But they pretty much left the Bureau of Old Age and Survivor's Insurance alone. And that happened again when Nixon came back in. And with Veneman and the first group of top staff. They soon found out that their troubles weren't with Old Age and Survivor's Insurance. On a day-to-day basis, their troubles were with trying to work with the welfare programs and the other things. So, they left us alone.
Interviewer: OK. Well, one question that Ed did want to ask was that transition to the Kennedy Administration from the Eisenhower Administration. He says that you did some transition work with Wilbur Cohen and others to transition to the new administration. And, he wondered if that created any conflicts or problems with the outgoing Eisenhower Administration. Could you explain what your role was?
Ball: We helped Wilbur develop a report that he made to Kennedy. Wilbur was asked by Kennedy, after he was elected, to head a little advisory group about Social Security that would make recommendations to the new President when he took office. And, to tell you the truth, it wasn't very aggressive, it wasn't a terribly significant report. It was, fairly mild beyond, of course, the Medicare stuff. Kennedy had campaigned on Medicare. But as far as the cash benefit part of the program, there were some benefit improvements, and maybe still some extensions of coverage that hadn't been taken care of. Nothing very big, but he had to write a report and make it available, and I worked with him on it, as part of the transition to a new administration.
Now, people from the old administration, I didn't tell them, I didn't explain that I was, in part, working on this. I don't think they had any particular interest any longer once they were on their way out. They were going out and other people were coming in. I think this question may have been raised by somebody like Bob Myers. Bob is a very open, strong, conservative Republican, not just an ordinary Republican. And he may think that up until the minute that the new President takes the oath, if the new President's a Democrat, nobody is supposed to help him.
Interviewer: Berkowitz also asked about Kennedy-Mills Bill. Did you play a role in the creation of the Kennedy-Mills Bill?
Ball: Yes, THE role.
The Kennedy-Mills Bill came about as follows. Nixon had proposed a health insurance plan that provided benefits, health insurance benefits I'm talking about, national health insurance benefits, but through a subsidization of private insurance, which has now gotten to be, a popular approach again. Because I wanted a government program, operated by the government, I didn't like the subsidization approach. I took the same amount of money that Nixon required for his plan, the same amount of government money that Nixon required for his plan, and instead said, "Well, let's just take that and do what we can with that amount through a regular, traditional, old-fashioned Kennedy-type national health insurance plan." I went to Ted Kennedy with this idea and he said, "Great, that's a wonderful idea." And that very first hour after I explained it to him, he took me over with him to the Senate floor and called Russell Long off the floor. Long was Chairman of the Finance Committee at that time, and was a sponsor of a catastrophic-type, national health insurance plan, something like $3,000 deductibles and so on. And, so he said to Long, "Russell, I want you to hear what Bob's proposal is. Maybe you and I could sponsor it together." Kennedy was not on the Senate Finance Committee. So, I explained it to him and Long says to Kennedy,"Well, he wrote my bill too." (Laughs) Which was true, his catastrophic bill. So, he said, "Let me think about it." Well he thought about it, and said no, he didn't want to do that. So, he didn't back it; he stayed with his catastrophic bill.
At this time, Ted Kennedy was very much in the running for the Presidential nomination as a Democrat. Everywhere he goes, there's mobs of people. He walked through the Senate, in the hallways-- most of the tourists don't even recognize any other Senator, but they all clustered around him at that time. Everywhere. We go to a meeting, and he's the key speaker, everybody is expecting him as the next President. So, this is part of it. So, he thinks this proposal, of using the same amount of money but doing it through the government, is a good ploy to advance the kind of plan he and I would want. Mills, by then, has become ambitious to be the Vice President on a Kennedy ticket for the presidency. He thinks that if they can, together, develop, or even pass, a national health insurance plan that would have their mark on it, it would be a big step toward getting elected President and Vice-President of the United States.
Kennedy sends me over to talk to Mills. And, of course I had worked with Mills for a longer period than I had with Kennedy. When I got through explaining it to Mills, he just buys it. And, says to Bill Fullerton, who is his health insurance staff guy and previously had worked at Social Security with me, tells him in effect to work with me and develop the bill and do it right away. I mean, it's like overnight, practically. And we developed the bill and they are going to introduce it jointly in the House and the Senate.
Now, of course the big backers of national health insurance were the labor movement. Kennedy has been their leader, the legislative leader for the labor movement's bills. They don't like this at all. When they get wind of it, and Kennedy explains to them that he is going to introduce this bill and make an announcement, they, in effect, say no. Andy Biemiller, who is the legislative guy for the AFL-CIO, says to both of us that they expect that in the next Congress they'll have a veto-proof Congress and that they can pass the full Kennedy bill and overcome the veto, and get the whole thing, whereas this plan correctly is said to only supply half of what the old full Kennedy bill provided. So they say, "We don't want to take half, we want the whole thing and we can get the whole thing next time." So they won't support it. And I happened to be in Kennedy's office when, George Meany, the President of the AFL-CIO calls him and tells him that they are not going to support Kennedy-Mills.
Well, Kennedy goes ahead anyway and introduces the Kennedy-Mills bill and the bill is introduced in the House by Mills. And it looks pretty good for a little bit. The Washington Post has a really great editorial, and the New York Times and so on. But, without labor's whole-hearted enthusiastic support, there isn't any real driving, organized public support behind it. So it just doesn't really go anywhere for that reason. And I'm sure, the leadership of the AFL-CIO is pretty sorry about that.
Interviewer: Yes, I bet they are.
Ball: They didn't take that....
Interviewer: Take half that loaf when they had half that loaf.
Ball: They probably didn't have it, but they were close--it was the closest shot at it. It was the closest shot at it they ever had, and probably, certainly up to this point, have had. But, that's the story, that's what happened. And, that's how it didn't go any further.
Interviewer: Hmm, OK