Falling out amongst themselves, Republicans fight over different versions of phase-out.
There was so much bamboozling going on tonight in that press conference that it was easy to miss one essential contradiction in the president's argument. You don't have to worry about private accounts, he said, because if you want you can fill your account with US Treasury bonds which have no risk at all. They're backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. But he says that the very same Treasury notes, when they're in the Trust Fund, are just worthless IOUs.
Are they really that stupid <$NoAd$> or they getting paid? Headline on an AP story running at CBSNews.com: "Bush Smiles At The Little Guy."
The article begins ...
President Bush put a populist face on his Social Security plan by urging Congress to tilt the system to benefit low-income retirees of the future as part of a plan to shore up the program's finances.
At a prime-time news conference Thursday night, Mr. Bush said he envisioned a plan under which all future retirees could "count on a benefit equal to or higher than today's seniors," a formula that left open the possibility that guaranteed benefits for middle and upper income seniors could be cut in later years to bring Social Security's finances into balance.
What did I miss? The president offered no specifics at all. He still says some portion of Social Security must be phased out and replaced with private accounts. And just as it has been since the beginning of Bamboozlepalooza, pretty much everything he said was meant to deceive his listeners.
Start with his three principles from the beginning of the news conference. The first two principles used coded language which translates into massive Social Security benefit cuts for the entire middle class. I bet it didn't sound like that when he said it, did it? His plan would turn Social Security -- the sheet anchor of the American middle class -- into old age welfare.
Principle number three was just the same old demand for private accounts dandied up in different clothes
Basically, from this president, it's phase-out today, phase-out tomorrow, phase-out forever.
Beside that, I heard a lot of whining about politics and how everyone isn't nice to him.
Which makes me think about the conceit which started President Bush off on this titanic effort: his belief and repeated claim that Social Security wasn't the third rail of American politics any longer. No more current in rail; lost its juice. He'd grabbed it a couple times and he'd come out just fine, he always said.
Folks weren't stuck in old-fashioned ways of thinking anymore and wouldn't punish politicians who tried to upend Social Security or phase it out and replace it with private accounts. Plenty of Washington's worthies act as though this 'third rail' phraseology is a challenge to politicians' courage, a symbol of benighted public opinion that won't let right-thinking statemen do what needs to be done.
But why shouldn't the public punish politicians who try to scam them into phasing out the most popular and successful government program in American history? It doesn't occur to these folks that some people think that this amounts to a vast hoodwink on the middle class. And those who try to pull something like that deserve every ounce of political payback they get.
However that may be, it turns out it's still the third rail, as it should be.
I'll tell you, back when we designed the anti-privatization T-Shirt we've been selling and giving away for the last few months, the first version of the shirt was entirely different. On the front it had a cartoon character guy grabbing on to the rail and getting fried out of his mind. And that over a caption that read "Feel The Juice!" with all the appropriate squiggly electricty lines around the words.
On the back it said, "Social Security: The Third Rail of American Politics Since 1936."
Subtle? No. But I can't say that bothered me.
I decided against it because it underplayed just how difficult it was going to be to turn back the push for privatization. It took too much for granted.
But tonight, watching the president complain about the rough shake he and his folks are getting, and having heard the same whining from congressional Republicans all day, that line kept popping back into my head as the best response: Feel The Juice! They deserve every bit.
From The Hill: "Reps. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) have been meeting with 30 House Republicans over the past few weeks to coordinate a more aggressive strategy to defend Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), according to a Republican source familiar with the meetings."
Lest anyone forget, both Feeney and Sweeney had high-profile roles in the Florida 2000 travesty.
Meet the DeLay Rule Dead-Enders, the twenty House Republicans who voted against restoring the House Ethics Committee, even after Speaker Hastert told them it was okay.
Or, as we're calling them, the Pay-As-You-Go Twenty ...
Barton Blackburn Burgess Burton (IN) Buyer Carter Cubin Culberson Gillmor Gohmert King (IA) McHenry Otter Pence Poe Price (GA) Simpson Thornberry Tiahrt Weldon (FL)
Quite a cast of characters.
Husband and wife physics team take up TPM faculty challenge to filibuster Frist, win glory and t-shirt!
According to our informants on the scene, this afternoon Edward Witten and Chiara Nappi approached filibuster organizers conducting their filibuster against Frist and informed them they were ready to take up the TPM challenge.
Photographs of their stints filibustering have been posted here.
By our interpretation of the faculty challenge rules, Witten and Chiara are entitled to two t-shirts. But apparently they only require one.
So two remain! Who will get them?
Late Update: We're told it's now started raining at the scene of the filibuster. So they're battening down the hatches. But the filibuster continues.
You can't stop fighting to save Social Security because he won't stop trying to phase it out.
According to afternoon wire reports, at the president's primetime press conference tonight, he will finally tell the public precisely what he does and doesn't support (aka, negotiating with yourself.)
Actually, in Scott McClellan's words, President Bush will "talk in more specific ways about his ideas for making Social Security permanently sound [and] some new proposals that he will talk about that he believes ought to be part of any solution." So, it's quite possible that we're just going to hear some more of the same mumbojumbo because he's still afraid to put something down on the table.
But clearly, with the failure of the Bamboozlepalooza Tour now conceded, the president wants to reshuffle the deck and force the debate on to some new phase.
So with that in mind, a few thoughts ...
First, you know what we'll hear. Democrats only say no. They don't have a plan. Wrong. Democrats do have a plan: it's called Social Security. And that's not mere rhetoric. It's an upfront, level-with-the-public statement of fact. What it means is that Democrats want to preserve Social Security as a defined-benefit system of social insurance. You can only say the Democrats have no plan if you take it as a given that the program must be radically restructured, like many of the talking heads in Washington. And Dems just don't agree.
Nor does this mean that they're flatly opposed to any changes. Social Security hasn't remained untouched for seventy years. Nor are the Democrats saying that every jot and tittle of all its complex tables of inflows and outflows are sacrosanct today. There are several quite detailed Democratic plans which have already been put forward, with mixes of minor benefits cuts and tax increases to bring the system into long-term solvency. What the Democrats oppose are radical cuts of the sort President Bush supports in order to fundamentally change the nature of the program, pay for his tax cuts and aide in not paying back the Treasury securities sitting in the Trust Fund.
The president was just reelected. He made phase-out his signature issue. His party controls majorities in both houses of Congress. It is not up to Democrats to do all his heavy-lifting for him and spell out every last detail. He was reelected. He said he wanted to lead. So lead.
So, as I said, Democrats have a plan: Social Security.
Second, and I'll be searchingly curious whether a reporter asks this at the news conference tonight: all of President Bush's scare-mongering about Social Security rests on the premise that the money borrowed from the Trust Fund either will not or cannot be paid back. If it is treated as a given that it will, little he is saying makes sense. So who will ask, specifically and on the point: Mr. President, will you guarantee that all the money that you and your predecessors (Clinton, Bush and Reagan) have borrowed from the Trust Fund will be repaid in full with interest, as prescribed by law? And if so, why are you trying to convince people that Social Security runs into any difficulties at the end of the next decade.
Third, keep your eye on the admittedly-much-diminished Fainthearted Faction. As we've said from the very beginning: this is in Democrats' hands to stop. Or, even a relative few of them, can start the ball rolling toward phase-out.