In 1956 President Eisenhower signed an amendment to the social security program that created disability insurance. His action marked the end of a sharp debate over disability insurance and the beginning of two decades of consensus concerning the program. Thirty years later, however, major issues have arisen in the disability insurance program that closely resemble the disputes that preceded its passage. Consensus no longer prevails about the goals and administration of the program. In this paper, we describe the history of the social security disability program in terms of an illusive search for a political consensus.2 We first examine the U.S. Senate's 1956 debate over disability insurance. This debate provides a convenient summary of the ingredients of the compromise that sustained the consensus of the next two decades. Then, in an effort to explain what was at stake in 1956, we review discussions about disability that had taken place previously in bureaucratic and professional circles. We next examine the post- 1956 expansion of disability insurance, and we conclude with the dissolution of the compromise.