The National Commission on Social Security Reform—better known as the Greenspan Commission—is widely credited with having addressed the financing crisis the program faced in the 1980s. Today, the Greenspan Commission is cited routinely as a model for resolving divisive political challenges, most recently inspiring the appointment of a bipartisan commission to address the federal deficit. But did the Greenspan Commission really succeed—or did one key member find a way to work around its failure?

Robert M. Ball, who led the Social Security Administration for decades and became its chief advocate and defender—served as House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s representative on the Grenspan Comission. In this previously unpublished account, Bob Ball describes in fascinating detail the inner workings of the commission and what really happened: how the commission deadlocked and how, at the last minute, he and White House chief of staff James Baker painstakingly negotiated concessions that their principals—Speaker O’Neill and President Reagan—could accept.

Ball wrote this account as a cautionary antidote to revisionist history. He warns: “To suggest that the Greenspan Commission provides a model for resolving questions . . . would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. . . . A commission is no substitute for principled commitment. Above all, we should not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of expecting miracles from another Greenspan Commission—by deluding ourselves into believing, mistakenly, that the first one was a great success.”