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UncleJust out from CQToday


Just out from CQToday ...

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow indicated Wednesday that the White House would accept a Social Security overhaul that does not divert the program’s payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts, a major shift in the administration’s position.

More soon ...

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Lieberman not a Faction

Lieberman not a Faction man after all?

See today's update in the New Haven Register (registration required).

I'll be busy with some non-TPM responsibilities for the next couple hours. But more on the new article then.

New Bamboozlepalooza appearances are

New Bamboozlepalooza appearances <$NoAd$> are slated for Alabama, Louisiana and New Jersey.

On that score, we were interested to see that the Montgomery Advertiser puts Sen. Shelby (R) down as a member of the Conscience Caucus. Specifically, they call him one of the state's two Republican "holdouts" on the Bush Social Security plan.

In Westfield, New Jersey, the president's host, Rep. Mike Ferguson (R), says the president "wants to speak to, listen to and talk to residents from around the state."

But the town's lone Democratic town councilman notes that...

If the event is being billed as a town hall meeting for the purpose of eliciting views on one of his policy initiatives, there would be an expectation that people having differing views may be in attendance.

This of course is a reference to the apparent decision to restrict the townhall meeting to avowed supporters of the president.

On the other hand, Rep. Ferguson doesn't think there's a problem...

My sense is the people who would be most interested in being in an event with the president will be ones who are supporters... And I think it's important to hear constructive criticism ... that doesn't include disruptive behavior or obnoxiousness.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R) of Florida is to appear tomorrow on C-SPAN's Washington Journal where she presumably will not be able to have all questions screened in advance.

And we will, of course, have more coming on the Count.

Quite a strong couple

Quite a strong couple days for the phase-out forces, wasn't it?

The Post and the Times tomorrow both have articles that all but call the president's push for private accounts dead. And while I'm not near ready to go that far, it certainly does look like the more people hear, the less they like it.

The most publicized data point in this regard is the recent USAToday/CNN poll which shows, across a series of related questions, that the president has fallen about ten points on Social Security in the last month. It's not quite free-fall, though it's probably enough to induce a bit of a sensation of weightlessness. But this sounding is in line with other recent polls which have pointed to a similar deterioration.

But with all this bad blood, I think I can see the path to a bipartisan compromise, at least between the White House and the Democrats, if not with the congressional GOP. President Bush wants to keep hitting the hustings in Republican-held districts and pressuring wavering GOP representatives to sign on to Social Security phase-out, hoping that persistence will shift the trendline back in favor of private accounts. And at this point I think the Democratic leadership up on the hill probably agrees that this is a very good thing.

Lets all take a

Let's all take a deep breath, appreciate the gravity of the moment, and then burst out laughing at the hapless representative from the 4th district of Louisiana, Rep. Jim McCrery (R).

Since it garnered a lot of media attention, you probably saw that the Campaign for America's Future -- one of the lead pro-Social Security advocacy groups -- started running ads in McCrery's district knocking him for being in the pocket of Wall Street interests set to gain from privatization.

It was a tough ad. But in the day of Swift Boats and the gay-loving AARP, it hardly charted any new territory in aggressive political speech. And it had the added benefit of being pretty undeniably factual.

So what does our man McCrery do? He's threatening to bring the courts in to enforce the Social Security speech code and get the ad pulled off the air.

According to an AP story which ran mid-evening on Tuesday, Rep. McCrery had his lawyer write a letter to the stations running the ad claiming that the ad is false and defamatory and threatening that running it "exposes you to possible legal liability."

And what was the defamatory claim, exactly?

The letter says what's defamatory is the ad's claim "U.S. Rep. McCrery wants to privatize Social Security and cut our guaranteed benefits."

This one really shoots McCrery to the top of the list of arch-social security bamboozlers. Republicans don't have to call privatization 'privatization' anymore. And they can try to jawbone reporters out of using the term. But presumably the word itself has yet to become itself a cause of action. And cut your guaranteed benefits? Can't we hit McCrery's dingbat lawyer for threatening like a frivolous lawsuit or something? No one denies that the president's plan will cut guaranteed benefits. The claim is only that private accounts might make up the shortfall.

I mean, it's hard to know how much to belabor this man's ridiculousness. But perhaps it is enough to see it as a sign of the low ebb to which phase-out has arrived that a representative who has already flip-flopped on this issue twice in the last six weeks is now responding to a hostile political ad by threatening legal action for making claims that are demonstrably factual.

There he goes again.

There he goes again.

Shortly after the second former high official in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives charged the administration with basic indifference to the much-ballyhooed idea of empowering people of faith to deal with entrenched social problems, George W. Bush went out again today and made a speech on the subject. And again, he acted as though there wasn't a whole lot he could do about inaction in the Congress, which his party controls top-to-bottom.

The bigger issue, of course, is that Bush did not bother to include the simplest and least controversial part of his original faith-based initiative--a charitable contribution deduction for non-itemizers--in his latest budget. As in past years, this tax cut got bumped from the menu of revenue goodies in favor of tax cuts aimed at high earners--you know, those folks of whom Jesus Christ said: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24).

Now I don't know how the 250 "religious leaders" who heard Bush's pithy remarks today felt about them. But given the administration's consistent unwillingness to support a relatively small tax break that could help religious charities--even as it piles up debt into the many trillions, including an end to the federal inheritence tax, which will hurt religious charities--I hope someone in the audience remembered what Jesus said just before the passage cited above. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 19:21).

Thus endeth the evening lesson.

The re-redistrictng Power Grab

The re-redistrictng Power Grab isn't the only mischief being cooked up by the Republicans in my home state of Georgia. Interestingly enough, there's a big fight underway over GOP-sponsored legislation that would shield public incentives for corporate relocations from public scrutiny.

If this sounds obscure and parochial to you, think again. One of the most destructive habits in state economic development strategies is the chronic battle between states to attract business investment by giving away the store in the form of tax rebates, free property, exemptions from regulations, and other corporate subsidies that create hidden, long-term costs in exchange for tangible, short-term announcements of new jobs and investment. And in turn, this is the basic approach to economic development--a race to the bottom in which all public priorities are sacrificed to the goal of lavishing money and power on "job creaters"--that Bush-era Republicans have made our national strategy for growth.

The rationale for the Georgia legislation, of course, is that it's designed to keep smokestack chasers from rival states from identifying and sweetening the deal being offered to fidgety corporate leaders. But it obviously makes it a lot easier for state wheeler-dealers to keep those taxpayers who are underwriting the deals from finding out about the price tag, or in some cases, the less tangible cost of new development in terms of environmental resources, traffic, housing, schools and the overall quality of life.

The GOP bill has already passed the Georgia House, but is in trouble in the Senate, where all 22 Democrats are opposed, and some Republicans, especially from high-growth areas, as getting jumpy. They should be jumpy, and Democrats should hang tough.

Compared to some states, Georgia has been relatively reluctant over the years to trade away its resources and revenues in corporate subsidies. In fact, as it happens, I once wrote a speech for a Georgia Governor who said Georgians should stop thinking of development as something that was delivered to them "on the wings of a pinstriped angel from Atlanta with a prospect in his hip pocket," and should instead focus on building growth from within, through better education, a skilled workforce, a strong quality of life, and a good atmosphere for home-grown business startups.

That healthy tradition is under attack in Georgia right now, in many other states, and in Washington, and it's good to see Democrats fighting back.

My last sunnily optimistic

My last, sunnily optimistic post about Bush's likely defeat on Social Security has already been interpreted by Matt Yglesias and Atrios as an effort to provide "political cover" for Joe Lieberman's reported effort to cut a bogus "deal" with Lindsay Graham. Wrong-o, folks.

What I actually said, not very ambiguously, is that one of two Dems ain't going to save Bush's bacon on this. After acknowledging that I might be right (or wrong) about that, Matt argues that the possible irrelevance of Lieberman's deal-sniffing is "no excuse for doing it." I agree entirely.

Let me be clear about this: I see no political or substantive justification for Lieberman offering to reach agreement with GOPers on Social Security, particularly at this moment. It's a very bad idea. And this pains me far more, I am sure, than it pains guys like Atrios who've probably wanted to throw Joe off a cliff for years now. And if the reports are true, it represents the sort of pattern of misjudgment (e.g., the framing of the homeland security debate, and, in tandem with Dick Gephardt, the quick embrace of Bush's version of the Iraq war resolution) that led a sizeable number of New Dems to support other candidates for president (some for Edwards, some for Clark, some for Dean, some, like me, for Kerry) in the 2004 primaries.

Having said that, I'd be lying to you if I got on the bandwagon and said I believed a Lieberman step towards a "deal" on Social Security was something to panic about, or, as Matt put it, "exactly the thing [the Bushies] need to regain momentum on this issue." Worst-case scenario is that Lieberman gets a press conference with a couple of Republican Senators, after which the Right howls down the idea of a payroll tax increase and Democrats disassociate themselves in masse from Lieberman's position. It's still a really bad idea, but it will be Lieberman, not Democrats or Social Security itself, who will be the loser.

Look, I've tried to be a Party Unity Eagle Scout since starting my own blog, despite a lot of provocation to get into fights over stereotypes about the DLC held by people who aren't much interested in reading what I have to say unless it reinforces those stereotypes. So I understand the need for unity on Social Security and other topics right now. But unity is a means to an end--beating Bush on the dangerous things he's trying to do to our country, and working towards a strong, alternative progressive message for Democrats that expands our base. It shouldn't become a complete end in itself.

Right now the blogosphere is full of talk about litmus tests and purges, whether or not they contribute to either of those goals. And if the email I'm getting about Lieberman is any indication, we're getting close to litmus tests and purges about litmus tests and purges ("Are you now, or have you ever been, opposed to kicking Joe Lieberman out of the party?").

So let's keep a little perspective about what's primary and secondary in the fights just ahead. Maybe the hellish pressure on Lieberman to step back from a bogus deal will work, maybe not. If he goes ahead, let's make it clear he does not speak for other Democrats, and minimize the potential damage instead of acting like Bush has already won. And after we win, there will be plenty of time to play back the tapes and pin the tail on errant donkeys, in a calmer climate.

Yesterday Senate Finance Committee

Yesterday Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley said Bush's Social Security plan ain't going anywhere unless there is a significant shift in public opinion. This morning's Washington Post reports the White House is telling its allies they have at most six weeks to turn public opinion around.

How big a shift will be necessary to produce a turnaround for Bush? Well, Ruy Teixeira has usefully summarized the latest polls on the subject, and (1) Bush's support level on Social Security is clearly in the high 30s at best, and (2) support for his "plan" drops the more voters hear about it.

I might add that on big changes in American government--and even American life--like this, opposition tends to harden over time, barring some particular change in the environment.

Sure, no one should misunderestimate the ability of the White House to push this thing right up to the gates of delerium, but let's also remember Bush's M.O.--he'll act like he's headed for victory right up to the minute he suddenly decides tax reform or the budget or some other element of the "ownership society" is suddenly more urgent. He's going to lose this fight, folks, whether or not one or two Democrats in the House or the Senate give him "cover" by offering some sort of deal that neither party will accept.