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 ...
Wyomingâs 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.
"Iâm willing to talk about it, but Iâm 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.