The Crash: The Budget's Sacred Cow

With outlays estimated at $217 billion this fiscal year, Social Security programs represent the largest expenditure in the federal budget after national defense. But when congressional leaders and Administration officials huddled last week to hunt for $23 billion in savings, Social Security was clearly untouchable. "Everything is on the table," President Reagan told the nation before the meeting, "with the exception of Social Security."

Why should one program get a free pass? Because, with its 38 million beneficiaries, Social Security is one of the Federal Government's most popular and effective programs. It has vastly improved the lives of America's elderly: a...