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Not a fun day

Not a fun day for Conscience Caucus member Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana?

He's tagging along today with the president's Bamboozlepalooza Tour.

But look at this poll that just came out from the Great Falls Tribune ...

President Bush might need to use all his Texas straight talk to convince Montanans to support letting individual workers invest part of their Social Security funds in stocks and bonds.

Montanans oppose switching to personal Social Security investment accounts by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, according to a statewide opinion poll conducted for the Great Falls Tribune.

Nearly 59 percent of the 405 adults surveyed oppose the idea, while nearly 30 percent support it.


Baucus opposes the idea, citing concern about the estimated $2 trillion cost of making up for the money diverted into private accounts.

He also fears the president's plan will reduce benefits to future retirees.

Poll respodents leaned toward the senator, with 54 percent saying they are more likely to support Baucus' position on personal Social Security accounts. About 28 percent said they support the president's position. Another 18 percent supported neither position or were undecided.

Does someone need a Loud and <$NoAd$> Proud moment?

Local Democratic officials banned

Local Democratic officials banned <$NoAd$> from events on Bamboozlepalooza Tour?

Just like old times, I guess.

From North Dakota's Fargo Forum ...

Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates is among more than 40 area residents included on a list of people barred from attending President Bush's speech today in Fargo.

Among the 42 area people on the do-not-admit list: two high school students, a librarian, a Democratic campaign manager and several university professors.

White House spokesman Jim Morrell and Don Larson, a spokesman for the North Dakota governor's office, say they don't know anything about such a list.

"This is the first I'm hearing of it," Morrell said when contacted Wednesday.

But two sources close to Tuesday's ticket distribution confirmed the list exists and includes a handful of names of people who were not to receive tickets to today's event at North Dakota State University's Bison Sports Arena. The list was supplied to workers at the two Fargo distribution sites, along with tickets and other forms citizens were asked to fill out upon receiving them. People who handed out tickets had copies of the list at their tables to determine if anyone should be denied access, both sources said.

The list contains a wide range of people. Several wrote opinion page letters to The Forum criticizing Bush or the war in Iraq. Others wrote letters in support of gay rights or of Democratic policies.

It's subscription only. But if you register you can see the rest here.

Milbank looks for signs

Milbank looks for signs of Caucus membership with hand-clap-ometer ...

When Bush told the crowd that personal Social Security accounts are the best way to improve the retirement system, most Republican lawmakers leapt to their feet. But a small band of moderates -- including Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), George V. Voinovich (Ohio) and Mike DeWine (Ohio) -- were slow to join the applause. As others felt the pressure to come to their feet, Snowe, who has said she would "certainly not" support Bush's proposal, remained seated without applauding. She smiled uncomfortably and re-crossed her legs.

Remember for future reference, Collins easily swayed by colleagues' hand slaps.

Sen. Baucus D of

Sen. Baucus (D) of Montana has an OpEd in the Billings Gazette all set for the kick-off of the president's Social Security Bamboozlepalooza tour.

The night of the

The night of the long gavels?

Timed as it was to get lost in the hullabaloo of the State of the Union address, the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning purge of the House Ethics Committee was still a pretty audacious move.

It's been known for some time that the now-outgoing Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Joel Hefley (R) of Colorado was going to get canned for his various offenses related to the Ethics Committee's handling, be it ever so gentle, of Rep. Tom DeLay (R) of Texas. The only mystery was just when the ax would fall.

But in this case, Speaker Hastert seemed to be channeling Michael Corleone in one of his less appealing moments.

As we noted back on November 19th, three of the five Republican members of the House Ethics Committee turned out to be in the Shays Handful. Or putting it more prosaically, three of them voted against the DeLay Rule.

The three were Hefley, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R) of Missouri and Rep. Steven LaTourette (R) of Ohio.

Hastert axed all three.

The two who toed the DeLay line -- Rep. Judy Biggert (R) of Illinois and Rep. Doc Hastings (R) of Washington -- stay. And Hastings becomes Chairman.

Hulshof seemed surprised by the turn of events and in his own words, "deeply disappointed."

The following comes from the St.Louis Post-Dispatch ...

“I believe the decision was a direct result of our work in the last session,” Hulshof said in an interview, “particularly my chairing the investigative subcommittee” that examined ethics charges against DeLay, R-Texas, in the 108th Congress.

Hulshof said his opposition to recent proposed changes of the GOP’s ethics standards may also played a role in his removal.

What's most telling, though, in this whole grisly affair is less the complaints of the purged than the comments of Hastert spokesman John Freehery who apparently couldn't be troubled to keep a straight face when denying that the purge was a purge.

This from the Rocky Mountain News about Hefley ...

John Feehery, a spokesman for Hastert, denied the charge, saying Hefley did a "great job" as chairman but had served the mandatory number of terms allowed without a waiver of House rules.

"He wasn't ousted. We have said all along we would make a change because that's what the rules state," Feehery said. "Any time you're (taken) off the Ethics Committee, it's not a punishment. It's not a joyful type of assignment."

And this about Hulshof from the Post-Dispatch ...

As for Hulshof, John Feehery, a spokesman for Hastert, said there was no connection to the DeLay matter and that the speaker simply wanted fresh faces on the panel.

“It wasn’t really removing him,” said Feehery. “It was more like relieving him of his duty. The Speaker doesn’t like to have people who are such talented legislators like him have to spend so much time on ethics.”

Feehery noted that Hulshof sits on the Ways and Means Committee and “is likely to play a critical role on Social Security and tax reform.

“... Ethics is more of a burden than a privilege,” Feehery added. “And the speaker likes to mix it up,” referring to Hastert’s desire to put new members on the panel.

But Hulshof said he had specifically asked Hastert to reappoint him to the panel and noted that two other GOP members who were allowed to stay—Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Judy Biggert, R-Ill.—have served on the committee longer than he has.

When corruption is really entrenched, there's no attempt to hide it.

We told you on

We told you on Tuesday night that Rep. Ron Kind (D) of Wisconsin was getting his papers in order to leave the Fainthearted Faction. And tonight he filed them.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quotes Kind calling the president's plan, "economically and morally irresponsible ... I am strongly opposed to any privatization plan that cuts current benefits or increases the federal deficit. Further, the president cannot continue his raid of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds on one hand and on the other hand allege that Social Security faces a financial crisis."

To the AP, he said: "The president's proposal to overhaul Social Security would drain more than $2 trillion from the Social Security Trust Fund over the next decade, endangering the benefits of current retirees and leaving a legacy of debt to our children and grandchildren."

These are the sorts of statements that are a bit vaguer on the policy nitty-gritty than we like to see. But it's the sort that got Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California out of the Faction. And he makes up for vagueness with vehemence. So, on the totality of the evidence, Kind's out of the Fainthearted Faction.

That brings the House Faction down to a mere five members, two of whom already have OFO? status.

The ax falls on

The ax falls on Istook and our man Jonathan Kaplan has the story.

You'll remember way back when, after the aptly named Rep. Ernest Istook (R) of Oklahoma got his nose in a vise over his IRS-tax-return-snooping 'amendment', he went after a bunch of Northeastern Republicans by cutting off their transportation money. (Istook was chairman the Appropriations' Committee's Transportation Subcommittee.) You can read about it here along with the cackling remarks of his spokesman Micah Ledorf.

As we noted at the time, this was pretty foolish practice on the part of the House Republicans, since they may not be dominant in the Northeast. But they wouldn't have a congressional majority without healthy representation throughout the region -- something Istook's shenanigans put in danger.

Within a week, the sad-sack Istook was reduced to the ignominy of writing a public letter of apology to his colleagues.

And now, reports Kaplan, Istook's little stunt has cost him his chairmanship.

Keep in mind that

Keep in mind that nothing that got said last night touched on the very big issues of disability and survivor benefits, which make up a substantial part of Social Security. That is money that in most cases, by definition, gets paid to individuals or on behalf of individuals who didn't have a lifetime of work to build up a private account. Where does that money come from?

Atrios makes the expert

Atrios makes the expert catch here with this comment from Wapo associate managing editor Robert Kaiser ...

Even more curiously, a "senior administration official" who briefed reporters on the Social Security proposal earlier today disclosed details of the White House plan that I don't think will play well in Peoria. Most significantly, this official revealed that most or all of the earnings from new "personal" or privatized accounts will be paid not to the holder of the account, but to the government. The senior official called this a "benefit offset." It's one way to finance the creation of these private accounts, but it's going to cause quite a political stir, I think.

That's quite a deal, isn't it?

If you really do well in the market you might even work your way back up to what you were going to get anyway. Of course, that not counting the huge benefit cuts.

Here is the exchange with the mysterious "senior administration official" in question ...

Q Putting those aside, what is the revenue implication of a fully phased-in 4 percent account of the type that you've laid out?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It would be very different depending overall on whether or not it was done alone or in the context of a comprehensive plan.

Q Assuming it's done alone, since that's all you're putting out here --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And the problem with assuming it's done alone is that we aren't advocating that it be done alone. We're advocating that it be done in the context of a comprehensive plan.

Q But people are going to want to know what is the cost.

Q But you're not saying what else is in there. You're not saying what else is in the comprehensive plan, so --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, when we have -- at the point where we can attach numbers to a comprehensive plan and model the effects of the accounts in that context, of course we'll put those numbers forward. But until that -- those specifications exist, we don't have the ability to project that.

Q In saying that there is no net added cost to the program, are you implying -- is it implicit that there is a benefit offset of one-third current guaranteed benefit because you're diverting one-third of revenues away from this program? If that's not correct, what would the benefit offset be to traditional benefits, and how would it be calculated?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The way that the election is put before the individual in a personal account structure of this type is that in return for the opportunity to get the benefits from the personal account, the person foregoes a certain amount of benefits from the traditional system.

Now, the way that election is structured, the person comes out ahead if their personal account exceeds a 3 percent real rate of return, which is the rate of return that the trust fund bonds receive. So, basically, the net effect on an individual's benefits would be zero if his personal account earned a 3 percent real rate of return. To the extent that his personal account gets a higher rate of return, his net benefit would increase as a consequence of making that decision.

Q So he would only get a benefit to the extent that his portfolio performed in excess of 3 percent?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. You can think of it as saying -- if you were making a decision on where to put your money going forward over the next 10 years, and you're saying, should I put it in this account or that account, if you're choosing to put your money over here instead of over here, then the net effect on you, as an individual, is to compare what would be the rate of return you get from this system, as opposed to putting it over here. And that would be the difference between the two.

Q Short of 3 percent, would he make whole or would he get less than the current guaranteed benefit?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there's a implication at the end of your question which -- you have to remember, the current system can't pay the current guaranteed benefit, so --

Q -- is to be paid through 2042 or 2052, the point -- are you suggesting that would not be paid?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's -- well, actually, it's -- I don't want to get off on too far of a tangent, but the Congressional Budget Office actually put out a paper this week which made a modification to what they had previously said about what current law was. And they made it very clear that current law is actually the level of benefits the current system can actually pay, as opposed to the level of benefits the current system is promising. So if you ask the question in terms of --

Q But they also said it can pay current level benefits until 2052 -- correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But the Congressional Budget Office is also very careful to say that starting in 2019 or 2020, the resources are not there to pay those benefits.

Again saying the Trust Fund doesn't <$NoAd$> exist. Like we've said, it's all about trying to find a way out of paying the money back under the grand agreement of 1983.

Okay for all you

Okay, for all you TPM readers who have been quietly tapping away at your keyboards looking for that find or catch that will earn you one of the prized Special Edition Privatize This! TPM T-Shirts, your wait is over! Or at least, it's over if you've already won one! Or, well, something like that. But the bottom line is we've got the T-Shirts.

We've already awarded a number of them to TPM readers who tracked the evolution of the Social Security speech code and we'll be giving out ten more tonight and tomorrow for eagle-eyeing the State of the Union address and its aftermath.

And of course, if you'd rather just drop down a few bucks and buy the T-shirt as a straight cash transaction, well, we can help you there too.

It turns out there's a men's version and then a women's version of the shirt. Why each gender gets their own version I don't precisely understand. But my one-and-only tells me that's how it is. So that's how we're going to do it. And if that isn't enough there's even the obligatory 'Private This' mug.

If you want to see what the thing looks like, click here to see the front and here to see the back. And to buy one you can go here.

A couple quick points. We make five bucks a piece off the shirts and the money goes to supporting TPM. On the image of the front of the shirt, you can't really make it out clearly, but the smaller text under "Privatize This!" says "*eyes and ears on loan to talkingpointsmemo.com", which we thought was kinda cute and had the added advantage of accurately describing how involved, watchful and vigilant readers are what makes this sort of enterprise possible.

In any case, on to other posts now. But politics isn't just about beliefs and policies and arguments. It should also be fun. Because fighting for things you believe in with some punch in your step, a glint in your eye and a confidence in results is fun. The center-left managed to lose a lot of that moxie over the years for a long list of reasons, some of them inevitable. But it's recoverable.