This vote was on an amendment by John Dingell, D-Mich., that would prohibit funds in the bill from being used to pay the salary of the deputy commissioner of Social Security before the commissioner has been confirmed by the Senate. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds the Labor, Health and Education departments in fiscal 2008.
Dingell said his amendment would have the effect of blocking the appointment of Andrew Biggs. President Bush appointed him to the post during a time period in which Congress was in recess. When this happens, the nominee may serve for a time period in that capacity without having to be confirmed by the Senate, as is the case for most of the very most senior positions in the government. Recess appointments are often used as a way to circumvent the Senate confirmation process when there is a high likelihood that the Senate won't vote to confirm someone.
Dingell said he opposed Biggs' nomination because he has supported the idea of privatizing Social Security. This would radically alter Social Security's entitlement system, removing investment decisions from the government's hands and allowing people instead to choose how they want those funds invested, potentially subjecting them to more financial risk. Republicans often offer the privatization of Social Security as a solution to what they suggest is alooming insolvency.
"It's about protecting Social Security. It is about the fox guarding the hen roost. The fox is the new appointee who has been made Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, but who is unconfirmed by the United States Senate. The hen roost is Social Security and the care and concern of millions of Americans, retirees, orphans, widows, persons who are disabled. What we want to do is to see to it that those people who are in charge of Social Security and guard Social Security are friends to the system and not enemies," Dingell said. "The amendment simply says no money may be spent on his salary until he has been confirmed; a simple, sensible, decent and proper protection for our retirees. Mr. Biggs has written dozens of articles in favor of privatization. He has compared Social Security to Enron and claimed that it was on the verge of imminent bankruptcy. He has argued that private accounts are the only solution to fund Social Security over the long term."
James Walsh, R-N.Y., said the amendment is "somewhat appropriate," because it was offered to an appropriations bill, which technically is only supposed to be used to expend money.
"I'm aware that this appointment is somewhat controversial, but the best way to get the Social Security Administration to perform as the Congress wishes is to pass laws and to bring them in for oversight hearings. I don't think that a rifle-shot cutting of one individual's salary is the right way to proceed," Walsh said.
By a vote of 231-199, the amendment was adopted. All but five Democrats present voted for the amendment. All but six Republicans present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the bill went forward with language effectively prohibiting Biggs from serving in his new post without being confirmed by the Senate.