Lockbox may be making a political comeback
Republicans may be coming around to former Vice President Al Gore’s way of thinking. Not on climate change, but on the “lockbox.”
During his failed 2000 presidential bid, Gore talked about setting aside Social Security tax surpluses and putting them in a kind of “lockbox” to keep them off limits for other government spending and tax cuts. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” comedy show made great fun of the Democrat’s comment.
Now Senate Republicans have revived the idea.
Not for Social Security, but for the oil spill clean up fund. Democrats are proposing to increase the oil spill clean up fund tax to 41 cents a barrel from 8 cents a barrel. The increase is part of a bill being considered by the Senate to help the long-term unemployed, offer relief to cash-strapped states and extend some expired business tax breaks.
Democrats said the tax increase is needed to make sure enough money is in the fund to deal with future oil spills. Not all companies have pockets as deep as BP Plc, which has promised to pay for damages caused by the deep water leak in the Gulf of Mexico, Senator Dick Durbin argued during Senate debate on the bill.
The tax increase will ensure taxpayers are not stuck with the tab in case of a future spill caused by a company that is not quite so flush with cash as BP, he said.
Republicans cried foul. They accused Democrats of raising the tax to offset some of the $126 billion cost of the bill.
Democrats are “stealing the money” and using it for other purposes, said Republican Senator David Vitter.
Republicans proposed an amendment that would stop the oil tax increase from being used to offset the cost of the bill.
Senator John Cornyn said it was not a “lockbox.” But the principle is the same. The amendment would wall off the $15 billion to be raised by the higher oil tax from any use other than cleaning up oil spills or bringing down the debt.
The argument is over accounting concepts that often are difficult to grasp and explain, as Gore found out in 2000.
Gore lost to George W. Bush and the rest is history. The Social Security surpluses have helped mask the cost of tax cuts and government spending and the nation’s debt has more than doubled from $5.6 trillion in 2000 to $13 trillion today.
Photo credit: Reuters/Lee Celano (An oiled Brown Pelican flaps its wings on a piling near Grand Isle, Louisiana)