Donald Trump’s gleeful deal with the Democrats—ratcheting up the debt ceiling, as well as the ire of the Republican establishment—puts John Cogan’s mind on 1972. Starting in February of that year, the Democratic presidential candidates engaged in a bidding war over Social Security to gain their party’s nomination. Sen. George McGovern kicked off the political auction with a call for a 20% increase in monthly payments. Sen. Edmund Muskie followed suit, as did Rep. Wilbur Mills, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, never one to be outdone, offered a succulent 25%.
Mr. Cogan has just written a riveting, massive book, “The High Cost of Good Intentions,” on the history of entitlements in the U.S., and he describes how in 1972 the Senate “attached an across-the-board, permanent increase of 20% in Social Security benefits to a must-pass bill” on the debt ceiling. President Nixon grumbled loudly but signed it into law. In October, a month before his re-election, “Nixon reversed course and availed himself of an opportunity to take credit for the increase,” Mr. Cogan says. “When checks went out to some 28 million recipients, they were accompanied by a letter that said that the increase was ‘signed into law by President Richard Nixon.’ ”
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