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From the bootlicks to

From the bootlicks to power at The Note: "While the filibuster fight and Social Security are giving the opposition party rare unity, it doesn't mean the Democrats necessarily have any good ideas, any plan for the future, or any capacity to make gains from all this."

Clear your throat. Because

Clear your throat. Because Sen. Grassley (R) has something he wants to shove down it.

As the Times reports this morning and USA Today did yesterday, Chairman Grassley plans to use the Finance Committee hearings he's scheduled for next week to produce a Republicans-only Social Security phase-out bill.

The thinking behind such a move would be that having an actual bill in the senate would give the president greater leverage to muscle Fainthearted senators like Sen. Pryor (D) of Arkansas over into the phase-out ranks.

Truth be told, I would not be surprised if Sen. Grassley is himself having something shoved down his throat here. But let's leave that discussion for another time and look instead at the Republican-side committee membership on the Finance Committee and consider whether Grassley can even get a bill out of committee.

The membership includes Grassley, Hatch, Lott, Snowe, Kyl, Thomas, Santorum, Frist, Smith, Bunning and Crapo.

Three names on that list will immediately stand out to TPM Readers: Snowe, Thomas and Smith, each of whom is currently listed in the Conscience Caucus, though with quite varying degrees of actual rather than notional conscience.

Snowe has been fairly outspoken in her opposition to private accounts. Sen. Smith (R) of Oregon has been much more a finger-in-the-wind man on phase-out. But in mid-February, when Portland Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn asked him point-blank whether we were right to put him in the Conscience Caucus ... well, here's what happened ...

Is the Conscience Caucus the accurate address for him?

"That's an appropriate conclusion," says Smith. "I have not signed up to anyone's plan.

"I'm open to the debate. I'm keeping my counsel."


So it sounds like Sen. Grassley may be making Sen. Smith come out and say where he stands.

Then there's Sen. Craig Thomas (R) of Wyoming. Thomas's caucushood has flown a bit under Washington's radar, but as we noted on March 3rd, he told the editors of Jackson Hole News & Guide he wasn't crazy about the president's plan ...

Wyoming’s senior U.S. senator says the federal government must do something to change Social Security, but he is hesitant to embrace a plan for personal savings accounts put forth by the Bush administration.

Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said the federal government may not be "financially able" to take on the expense of the private savings plan, which he pegged at $2 trillion. Thomas said it does not make good financial sense to reduce the amount of money flowing into the Social Security trust fund at a time when payouts to baby boomers are projected to increase.

"I’m willing to talk about it, but I’m not persuaded at this point," Thomas said Thursday during a meeting with News&Guide reporters.


So that's three of the eleven Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee who have been telling their constituents that they're leaning against phase-out. We can't wait to see what they'll be telling them next week, since phase-out will be in their hands.

On Powell and Bolton

On Powell and Bolton, the former's critics will, quite fairly, point out that Powell waited until Bolton's nomination had sustained what were quite probably fatal knocks before choosing to go public -- when the costs and risks were low and the potential pay-off high. Sort of the Powell Doctrine applied to Washington politics, you might say.

Is Powell stepping forward

Is Powell stepping forward to put Bolton out of his misery?

Articles in Friday's NYTimes and Post describe how the former Secretary of State (and Bolton's boss in the first administration) has been doing what amounts to behind-the-scenes lobbying against Bolton's nomination.

The truth is that Powell is very much not the only Republican foreign policy heavyweight working in private to scuttle Bolton's nomination. But the degree to which he's going public is sort of extraordinary. While giving no comments himself and not explicitly stating he's bad-mouthing Bolton, Powell did authorize his spokesperson to confirm on the record that he has had recent phone conversations with Sens. Chafee and Hagel about Bolton while quite pointedly giving no reason to think much of anything he said was positive. If you look further into the articles you can see pretty transparently that on background Powell's people confirmed in some detail just what the former Secretary is doing.

That may well be fatal to Bolton's nomination. The foothold Bolton's supporters have in this fight is their contention that the only reason Bolton's in trouble is that Democrats are trying to take him down to score political points. Indeed, President Bush made that argument just yesterday. But Powells now-public lobbying knocks that argument right out of the park.

Republican senators looking to deny the White House this nomination need some partisan cover; and Powell just gave it to them.

More DeLay shenanigans on

More DeLay shenanigans on the Energy Bill. See this site to see how it might affect you.

Late Update: There's also this, the League of Conservation Voters' list of Tom's Tainted Team (I kinda like the sound of that), the ten members of the House who Tom relies on most when he wants to carry the water of companies polluting your drinking water with MTBE.

The Hill reports that

The Hill reports that Sen. Santorum (R) wants to slow down the push the for nuclear option in the senate after seeing that the issue isn't polling well for the Republicans.

There's also <$NoAd$> this ...

GOP aides said Santorum has made known to the leadership reasons for why Republicans should not move forward on the nuclear or constitutional option.

“He was concerned that too many things are competing in the same area and you couldn’t get a clean shot at it,” a GOP aide said. The aide cited the “fallout” from congressional Republicans’ intervening in a Florida court’s decision to remove Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube and the subsequent controversy caused by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) statement that “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

Democrats portrayed that statement as an incitement against judges, and it resulted in a spate of media critiques of DeLay and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who made a speech on the Senate floor raising the question of why judges are targets of violence.

Senate and House Democrats have woven the Republican intervention in the Schiavo issue, DeLay’s statement about judges who declined to save her life, and GOP consideration of the nuclear option into a broad message that Republicans are abusing power. John Bolton’s stalled nomination to become U.N. ambassador has also become a distraction.


Abusing power.

Is anyone listening to

Is anyone listening to this?

In remarks yesterday before the Bond Market Association -- one of the hardest partying groups on the street -- Treasury Secretary John Snow explicitly linked the administration's efforts to cut the deficit to the push to partially phase-out Social Security. The logic of that statement points to only one conclusion: the deficits the administration has run up with upper-income tax cuts will be reduced by benefit cuts in Social Security.

It's not about strengthening Social Security; it's about cleaning up the mess created by the president's tax cuts.

Our TPMCafe pitch hint

Our TPMCafe pitch (hint, hint, hint) may have temporarily displaced the links to our Fainthearted Faction and Conscience Caucus, but that doesn't mean we've stopped keeping score.

In fact, in our next update you'll see that the Conscience Caucus list continues to grow, mostly <$NoAd$> out of sight of the national press.

But there's an article today in Roll Call (subscription req., unfortunately) which sheds some new light on happenings in the Fainthearted Faction. Under the headline, "White House, Democrats Meet, Quietly," Emily Pierce reports ...

Although Republicans have been publicly hammering Democrats for refusing to “come to the table” on a plan to overhaul Social Security, many moderate Senate Democrats have been meeting privately with White House officials to talk about what they may or may not be able to support.


On balance, when you get through the whole story, it's basically the same old story: lots of meetings, but no sign of real movement.

Of interest to TPM Readers, though, will be Pierce's list of the three senate Dem gettables. Sens. Conrad and Nelson of Nebraska are already down in the Senate Faction. But she also lists Sen. Pryor of Arkansas ...

“I have not yet heard an idea that I can vote for,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who noted that he met with Bush administration officials to discuss Social Security two weeks ago. “I’m someone who is open and listening, but not someone who is supportive at this point.”

...

Pryor and Conrad, along with Nelson, are seen by the White House as the three Democratic Senators most likely to be persuaded to back President Bush’s proposal to allow workers to divert a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into private investment accounts.

Though he refused to confirm which Members the Bush administration is targeting, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said conversations that administration officials have had with select Democrats “have been very positive discussions and active discussions, which we view as very encouraging.”

Duffy added that the Democrats who have come to White House “want to keep the lines of communication open so we can solve the problem now.”

...

“They were still at a conceptual stage. It’s not like they had a real firm proposal,” said Pryor. “I told them, ‘You all need to come to Congress with a proposal, even if you have to use a back channel.’”


Now, as I said, Conrad and Nelson are old Fainthearted Faction regulars. And Sen. Lieberman has remained there not so much because of new statements or actions (most of which have been pretty supportive of Social Security) but what we might call accumulated soft-on-Social-Security mojo. Actually, I think Lieberman is the only member of Congress who's gone on and then back off of the list multiple times. But with this new information, we're taking Lieberman of Connecticut off the list and replacing him with Sen. Pryor (D) of Arkansas.

Heres a question with

Here's a question with some particular relevance to the Bolton nomination, but with a broader relevance to how business is conducted in Washington today: If a foreign government provides money to a Washington think tank to produce studies or hold meetings about that foreign government's relationship with the United States, should those payments have to be disclosed?

I understand that the

I understand that the voting cardinals who took part in the conclave that elected Benedict XVI as the new pope took an oath of perpetual secrecy about what happened in the conclave. And yet many of them now seem willing to discuss rather precise details of what occurred on the record for the daily papers. I'll let the canon lawyers decide whether that's a problem for the cardinals. But it makes for good journalism. This piece out in Thursday's Post gives one of the first clear narratives of how Benedict came to be chosen.

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