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SOCIAL SECURITY CLOSE TO INDEPENDENT STATUS

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Congress is close to ending a decadelong fight to make Social Security an independent agency.

By a vote of 413-0, the House agreed Tuesday to take Social Security out of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Senate passed a similar version earlier this year.President Clinton has endorsed the idea, virtually ensuring a bill will be signed into law once House and Senate negotiators reconcile differences in the details.

Both bills end unsupervised cash payments to drug addicts and alcoholics who use their benefits to feed their addictions. The legislation would cut off their benefits after a maximum of 36 months.

Supporters believe spinning Social Security away from HHS will restore the public's waning confidence in the program by making it more visible and accountable, less vulnerable to budget cuts and better insulated from politicians.