As the author of the the Social Security and Medicare Safe Deposit Box Act of 1999, I would like to address points in the June 7 editorial "A Phony Lockbox."
First, the editorial stated, "The lockbox has no lock." Regrettably, if Congress and the president want to continue raiding the Social Security trust fund, no measure of procedural adjustment can stop them. The goal of this lockbox is to make members of Congress accountable to the voters by forcing a specific vote on whether to take from the Social Security surpluses to pay for additional spending or tax cuts. Making a specific, on-record vote serves as a strong deterrent against dipping into the Social Security trust fund.
The editorial also stated, "The legislation would do nothing to solve Social Security's financial problems." While this lockbox makes no claim to be the "answer" to the problems of Social Security and Medicare, it is a crucial first step. Before Congress and the president can start making substantial Social Security and Medicare reforms, we must work together to prevent the spending of Social Security surpluses on unrelated programs. The lockbox bill, which passed the House by an overwhelming 416 to 12 bipartisan vote, takes this important first step.
As to the final point that the lockbox could "have the unintended effect of complicating and slowing down future responses to recessions and real emergencies," nothing is "unintended" about making it more difficult to spend Social Security surpluses. "Emergency spending" is a term that has come to represent anything from funding natural disaster recoveries to funds for grasshopper research. The point of order is intended to force each member of Congress to ask: Can I face a town hall meeting after voting to spend Social Security surpluses to pay for this "emergency" spending?
While an arguably stronger lockbox has been introduced in the Senate, it has been blocked from even being considered by the president and Senate Democrats. While one may argue about the effectiveness of this lockbox, the political reality is that the House-passed lockbox may be the best chance to make real progress toward protecting the Social Security surplus from further raids.
U.S. Representative (R-Calif.)