Thursday is the day that President Bush is scheduled to head out to Montana to hold a few town meetings on phasing out Social Security. Expect the benighted bigs to focus on whether Bush can put the screws to Sen. Max Baucus (D). But you, who are among the TPM illuminati, know that the real issue is whether President Bush, coming right off his State of the Union address, can pry an endorsement loose from the state's sole congressman, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R).
Back on November 17th, Rep. Rehberg told the Great Falls Tribune that he was still pretty leery about President Bush's plan to phase out Social Security.
As reporter Mike Dennison put it ...
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana's sole House member and a Republican, says he's a long way from feeling comfortable about "privatizing" or allowing "personal accounts" with Social Security funds, as suggested by the president.
"I haven't seen anything I can support yet," he says.
But Rep. Rehberg's views on private accounts are fluid or perhaps best described as evolving, if not always in the same direction.
In a campaign trail debate in June 2000, for instance, he endorsed private accounts, telling the debate moderator, "We shouldn't be propping up a failed system."
In an earlier debate he asked rhetorically, "Why shouldn't we believe that somebody else could manage that money better than somebody in Washington, D.C.?"
Indeed, as we dug into this story we discovered that Rehberg was actually something of an early innovator in the Social Security speech code wars. Back in 2000 he repeatedly endorsed setting up private accounts within Social Security. But when opponent Nancy Keenan had the temerity to call this 'privatization,' Rehberg wouldn't stand for it.
Campaign manager Alan Mikkelsen said Rehberg simply wanted to allow workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in private investment accounts. "That's a far cry from privatization," Mikkelsen harrumphed to AP
reporter Bob Anez.
In another press comment, Mikkelsen said Rehberg "doesn't want to privatize Social Security, but rather wants to explore the option of allowing future recipients to voluntarily invest a portion of their payroll taxes in individual savings accounts."
In any case, with all the sand kicked in the air, I wanted to see if there'd been any movement in the congressman's position over the last two months. When I rung him up this afternoon Rehberg spokesman Brad Keena told TPM that the congressman "does believe in a plan that will fix and reform" Social Security. He's just not ready to endorse the president's plan.
With regard to all the options on the table, Rehberg is "very open-minded," Keena repeated several times.
"Really, we haven't gotten this national debate into swing yet. We just got the information on [the president's Social Security plan] and he's begining to study it."
Presumably, by Thursday he'll have had a chance to study it more closely. And according to Sunday's piece in the Great Falls Tribune
, Rehberg will be travelling with the president
when he comes to the state.
So a pretty straightforward question for the media folk travelling with the president. Will Rehberg endorse, or no?