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As youve probably seen

As you've probably seen, all but three Senate Democrats signed the letter to President Bush today calling on the president to categorically reject phase-out in the form of private accounts paid for with Social Security funds.

The three were Conrad, Feingold and Nelson of Nebraska.

Conrad and Nelson aren't much of a surprise. But, to many, Feingold was.

I checked into this and it turns out that Sen. Feingold's mother just passed away and for that reason he is currently back in Wisconsin.

After speaking with a member of the senator's staff, it seemed clear to me that there was nothing more to read into his failure to sign the letter than that he was not in Washington to sign it and is understandably busy now attending to personal matters.

So who got to

So who got to go to the <$NoAd$> Bamboozlepalooza event in New Jersey today?

Says Gannet ...

Among those organizations [receiving tickets to distribute] are the chambers of commerce in Hunterdon and Union counties, the Somerset County Business Partnership and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, Bird said. Those groups distribute their allotment at their discretion, she said.

Organizations representing seniors, many of whom oppose the president's plan, did not receive tickets. Bird said that's because many seniors were among those who called in and are receiving individual tickets. The list of invitees includes firefighters, the families of military personnel serving in Iraq and the Democratic mayors of Fanwood and Summit, she said.


(ed.note: Thanks to this local site for alerting our attention to this passage.)

Reader mail ...While I

Reader mail ...

While I understand leaving Joe in the faction, I'm not entirely sure why the other Senate faction signees haven't been bumped out on the basis of signing on. Joe is a special case, but for Landrieu and Carper, it'd seem like the letter would be a good enough statement of intent to revoke their faction membership.

-J


Membership for Carper and Landrieu is now under review.

Mums the word for

Mums the word for Rep. Steve Buyer (R) of Indiana. From the Indianapolis Star: "Rep. Steve Buyer would not say whether he supports personal investment accounts." All the rest of the Republican House delegation from the state, including the Count, are private accounts men, says the Star.

So Joe Lieberman signed

So Joe Lieberman signed the senate Democrats' letter insisting that phase-out (i.e., private accounts funded with Social Security dollars) has to be taken off the table once and for all before there can be any serious discussion of legislation to strengthen and extend the solvency of Social Security.

Good for them.

And really how could it be otherwise? It is no more complicated than saying that the option of euthanizing the patient has to be ruled out before there can be any real discussion of how to cure him.

And good for Joe.

With someone like Lieberman who's been out of the Faction, in the Faction, out and then back in again, I think it's too early to strike him from the rolls entirely. But you certainly can't be the Dean of the Faction if you're going to show signs like this of standing tall and doing the right thing. And certainly you can't be Dean when Sen. Kent "the Kernel" Conrad is way outdoing you in terms of Faintheartedness.

So Lieberman gives up the Deanship but for the moment at least remains in the Faction.

In generalities the point

In generalities, the point is widely understood. But in this article by Sidney Blumenthal from yesterday, the specifics are assembled together. The point being that nothing President Bush is saying now about Social Security is new. In fact, almost word for word his statements are close to identical to Republican attacks on Social Security from as far back as 1936.

A few examples.

The 1936 Republican platform: "Society has an obligation to promote the security of the people, by affording some measure of protection against involuntary unemployment and dependency in old age. The New Deal policies, while purporting to provide social security, have, in fact, endangered it ...the [trust] fund will contain nothing but the government's promise to pay ... [and is] unworkable."

Goldwater on Social Security from '64: "It promises more benefits to more people than the incomes collected will provide."

It's always been the same. The Trust Fund doesn't exist. The system is on the verge of bankruptcy. It can't deliver what it promises. The program should be voluntary.

All that is different now is that a sitting president has chosen to make a showdown over the issue.

I've said probably too many times over the last couple days that however they choose to dress it up and whatever sort of compromise they want to present it as, the president's goal is still phase-out. That's why he's invested so much in this politically. And if you want to grasp the stakes of all this -- both politically and in terms of policy -- just look at the fact that the White House is now redoubling its efforts to push privatization in the face of public opinion which appears to be congealing against them. They understand the consequences of defeat.

Now, you'll hear from me and others over the coming weeks and months all sorts of different jargon and policy particulars about caps and private accounts and add-on accounts and Trust Funds and rates of return and all the rest of it.

But the terms of this debate are actually pretty straightforward. The president and his supporters want to get the government out of the Social Security business by ending guaranteed benefits. It's really as simple as that. Not complicated. They'll put in its place some system of private accounts where you can save money on your own. And if it works out, great. If it doesn't, it's your problem.

Social Security is about spreading out the risk and the security by having near-universal participation in one program. That's what it is. You pay in through the course of your working years and after you retire you receive your guaranteed benefit every month for the rest of your life. It is that issue of guarantee -- which, in its nature, only a program like Social Security can provide -- which the president and his supporters are trying to do away with, either all at once or in stages.

So take away all of your policy particulars and computations and flow-charts and analyses. And set them to one side. That is the issue at the core of all of this debate. It defines what kind of society we live in. Its future rests in the hands of Senate Democrats. And all manner of honor or infamy is in store for the ones who make the difference.

Several times recently weve

Several times recently we've mentioned Jason Furman, former Director of Economic Policy for the Kerry-Edwards Campaign and one of the Democrats' experts on Social Security policy. The Filibuster, the official blog of the Columbia Political Review, recently published an interview with Furman in which he discusses many of the key questions about Social Security and the unfolding debate over whether or not it should be phased-out.

Not just Frist.You have

Not just Frist.

You have to read down to the bottom of the article in tomorrow's Times. But it seems that the White House was also able to force a recantation from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) Iowa, who yesterday suggested that the Congress should shift its focus from private accounts to solvency. Today Grassley released a statement saying: "Personal accounts are still on the table along with all the other ideas to strengthen Social Security."

That, of course, brings the number of White House-squeezed recanters to three: McCrery, Frist and Grassley, though today's reports left it unclear whether Frist and Grassley were taken to the Chamber like McCrery.

The Post tomorrow says

The Post tomorrow says this about the president's warning to Democrats ...

Meanwhile yesterday, Bush warned that Democratic lawmakers may suffer politically if they continue to oppose his plan without offering alternatives. Americans are beginning to agree that Social Security needs revisions to safeguard its long-term stability, he said, adding: "In my judgment, ultimately, I think politicians need to be worried about not being a part of the solution."


At the risk of stating the obvious, there is one thing you can say for this president, as indeed you can for most presidents, though not to the same degree: With every major <$Ad$>policy he has pushed, whatever his level of belief in the substance of the legislation, he has done so with an eye to maximizing the political return at the next election.

Every single time: tax cuts, Iraq, Homeland Security, etc. Every single time.

So clearly if the president really believed that Democrats would be hurt politically if they got left off the phase-out bandwagon, he'd be pushing for a vote now, thus trying to put the Democrats at a maximum disadvantage in 18 months. But he isn't, or rather can't, because his Republicans are terrified of moving without the Democrats.

So on its face, what the president is saying is a crock.

But let's look at the assumption, or rather the spin, underlying it.

Increasingly, in recent days, the president and his surrogates have been arguing that while broad-based support for private accounts has yet to materialize, there is a growing public belief in the need for rapid and fundamental reform. And that, they reason, puts them in a position to win the debate because if the public believes major changes are necessary, and soon, they're the ones with the major reform on the table.

In essence, the president is arguing that while he has yet to win the argument, he and the White House are winning the predicate to the argument.

Only, all the polls say it's just the opposite.

Consider a few examples.

The recent CNN/USAToday poll found that the percentage of Americans who believe that major changes are needed "in the next year or two" was 38%. A month earlier that number was 49%.

The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released a couple weeks ago showed that over the previous two months number of Americans who believe in "making some adjustments [to Social Security] but leaving the Social Security system basically as is" went from 39% in December, to 44% in January, to 50% in mid-February.

It's not always easy in the various polls to locate questions that go specifically to this issue. And it is further complicated by the fact that in the Times poll, for instance, as well as in some of the others, many of the questions are asked for the first time or for the first time in many years. So you can't get a sense of change over time.

What the polls do show is a rapidly increasingly awareness of the debate itself, which makes sense given the amount of news coverage. But as the recent Pew poll shows awareness of the debate correlates strongly with opposition.

In other words, the more folks know about the president's plan, the less they like it.

The simple truth is that the president isn't just losing the debate on private accounts and phase-out. He's also losing it on the underlying question of whether or not fundemental changes are necessary and whether the need for change is urgent.

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