A new member of the Senate's Fainthearted Faction: Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
Notwithstanding Sen. Arlen Specter's declared opposition to a private-accounts-based Social Security phase-out, Sen. Lindsey Graham is putting together a working group of six senators (seven, including Graham) "seek[ing] agreement on a bipartisan blueprint for shoring up Social Security, preferably before President Bush outlines his plan and partisan lines harden in Congress."
So reports Thursday's Wall Street Journal.
The six include 2 Republicans and 4 Democrats. And Graham is holding the meetings with the "encouragement" of the White House.
The Senators are Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. The Democrats are Max Baucus of Montana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
In March 2002, Sen. Lieberman called "privatization" a "dangerous mistake."
"Social Security privatization," he said, "would take away the safety from the safety net, and turn the idea of a rainy day fund into a sink or swim proposition."
"We understand Social Security's economic value and appreciate its moral value," he wisely observed, "and that we won't let it be diluted, dismantled or dissolved."
I couldn't agree more. And yet the president has made clear that any plan must include privatization, a private-accounts-based partial phase-out of Social Security.
So what is there to talk about exactly?
On October 21st 1998, when first running for senate, Sen. Lincoln called privatization "dangerous" and made opposition to it a key plank in her campaign.
So, again, what is there to talk about?
Why are we picking on Faction newcomer Sen. Lincoln and not Sen. Baucus, you ask?
Because Baucus seems to have bailed out. Notwithstanding his participation in the meetings, the Times reports Baucus "said on Thursday that he would oppose the president's Social Security plan this year."
In an interview with the Times, Baucus, who provided the president key support on the 2001 tax cut bill and the Medicare bill, said, ""I seriously doubt I'm going to be the linchpin this time ... [private accounts will] exacerbate the problem, not solve it."
Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, a telling division is emerging between Senate and House Republicans.
While Senators like Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham and others believe the "White House should leave it to Congress to work quietly on a bipartisan Social Security package that is not explicitly the president's," House leaders are sending a very different message. According to the Post, they're insisting that "the president has to issue a detailed plan to restructure Social Security and add personal investment accounts, then sell it himself before he could possibly hope to get broad Republican support."
And what's the big difference between the Senate and the House? Right. The folks in the House all have to face the voters next year. Most in the senate don't have to for three or five years. And the president never.
And as long as we're on the subject, which party seems more divided over this issue?