Lots of news today in the Senate's Fainthearted Faction.
First, the good news.
According to Ron Brownstein's piece in the LAT, both the DLC and Third Way "expect to issue statements soon opposing Bush's push to divert part of the Social Security payroll tax into accounts that individuals could invest in the stock market."
As I've hinted previously, I expected the DLC to come out against the president's plan. But I had real concerns that Third Way would play ball on the phase-out. And in this case I couldn't be happier to be proven wrong.
I'll be curious to see the fine print on their statement. But that's certainly a very welcome development since now it seems clear that every major Democratic policy group from the most leftish labor-liberals to the newest New Dems are united in believing that the Bush Social Security phase-out plan is bad policy for America.
Before proceeding, a side note: Democrats have plenty of things more important to do right now than to fight amongst themselves. And I know a lot of readers of this site have strong suspicions or negative feelings about the DLC -- in some cases because of very real policy differences. But members of a coalition party have to strive to celebrate moments of agreement at least a bit more than they rush to clamor over the inevitable disagreements. So maybe take a moment to give these guys (DLC and Third Way) some encouragement for doing the right thing.
On the other hand, notwithstanding what the policy wonks are saying, we've got some definite additions to the Senate's Fainthearted Faction.
First off, what strikes me at least as a surprise. California's Dianne Feinstein. Say it ain't so? Tell me about it.
Feinstein sent out a letter today to a number of constituents who asked her whether she supported privatization and/or the president's Social Security phase-out bill. In that letter she says pretty much everything you can imagine except for anything remotely like answering the question.
The closest she seems to come is toward the end where she writes ...
Most policy makers agree that the rate of growth of this program, as well as the oversight of its expenditures, must be addressed to ensure its integrity and preservation. I am confident that if Congress works together, it is possible
that Social Security can meet its long term commitments.
Who knows what that means?
But reading the tea-leaves I think it shows an openness to the president's plan. More to the point, though, she's clearly not
willing to say she opposes replacing part of Social Security with private accounts. And that really means you're in the Faction by definition since the outlines and many of the details of the president's plan are already clear.
I should also note that I see a lot of these constituent letters and they're often ambiguous. So they have to be read in the context of a member's previous legislative record. In this case, we should note that Feinstein voted for
the president's awful Medicare bill as well as
his 2001 tax cut bill, which has played such a wonderful role in throwing the country back into major structural budget deficits.
So for all those reasons combined, Feinstein's in the Faction big time -- though why she feels the need to be when even the major centrist groups seem opposed to the president's approach and she comes from an ocean-blue state like California is beyond me.
Next up is Tom Carper of Delaware. He's refusing to rule out private-accounts-based Social Security phase-out plan. And he told
: "For now, we should leave things on the table and have a debate about them."
So he's in the Faction.
Next up, is Evan Bayh of Indiana. He's refusing to say no to a phase-out. But here's what the LAT
says about him ...
Still, many of the Democratic centrists are signaling that they might support private accounts only with conditions Republicans likely would find difficult to accept. Bayh said he would consider a private account plan only if it could "maintain the safety net, maintain progressivity (in benefits) and protect the taxpayers (from more debt)."
We should note that there are going to be Democrats who for reasons of temperament as much as ideology are not going to state opposition from the outset, but will set conditions -- such as these -- that seem to all but commit them to opposition. I think that's what Bayh's doing here. So he's in the Faction, but only just. Like Carper, he's one of the three senate principals in Third Way
. So maybe their alleged statement of opposition will or already has swayed him.
(Keep in mind that Bayh thinks he can run for president one day. So I would think that the best way to encourage him is to make sure he understands that he will never
get the Democratic nomination for president or vice president if he votes in the affirmative for a bill that dismantles Social Security.)
Next up, Joe Lieberman. The LAT
also has Lieberman down as one of the group of senators who will not commit themselves to opposition to the president's plan. It also says that "Lieberman, with Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, is leading a group of moderates from both parties that have begun efforts to determine if they can reach a consensus position on Social Security reform."
Now, I've been given to believe that Lieberman is not going to stray on this issue. And a bit after the election he told
the New Haven Register
that the Bush plan "may well worsen the financial condition of the existing
program ... Social Security is now on the verge of going into deficit. Our first
responsibility should be to work together to ensure that we keep our
promises to seniors and that Social Security's future is realistic and
Still, at the end of the day, he's not willing to state clear opposition to the private accounts idea that he said he'd left behind back in 2000. So Joe, personal feelings aside, is in the Faction. And in any case, it's not like there's not someone to run against him in the primary in 2006. Widely-praised Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
would probably like to get into the big leagues at some point. And in that state, he'd probably win if he knocked Joe out in the primary.
At the end of the day, I figure Lieberman does the right thing on this one. Unlike Feinstein, who voted for the 2001 Deficit-Creation Act (aka Tax Cut), he voted against it. But we'll see.
On the House side, we heard signs from a few different sources today that Rep. Marion Berry
of Arkansas may be getting ready to break out of the Faction. Yesterday he told Bloomberg
: "The bottom line is the debt and the deficit and the current account deficit are so overpowering that it stands the chance of destroying this country economically ... 'The idea of compounding this by adding 1, 2, 3, 4 trillion dollars to the debt to do this doesn't seem to make sense.''
That sounds like he's saying that the president's new debt-spending spree is a no-go for him. But we'll see. For the moment we haven't seen anything specific on Social Security per se
. So he remains in.
As we noted
last week, Ron Kind
of Wisconsin looks like he's only hanging on in the Faction by a thread.
And, finally, a constituent letter from Rep. Bud Cramer
of Alabama seems to put him right at the top of the Faction.
So that leaves us with the current Faction membership list
HouseRep. Marion Berry
(D-Ark) (OFO?)Rep. Allen Boyd
(D-FL) (L&P!)Rep. Robert "Bud" Cramer
(D-AL)Rep. Harold Ford
)Rep. Ron Kind
(D-Wisc) (OFO?)Rep. James Moran
)Rep. Collin Peterson
(D-MN)Rep. Ike Skelton
)Rep. Adam Smith
(D-WA)Rep. John Tanner
(D-Tenn)Rep. Gene Taylor
Senate (note: senate list is roughly in order of relative Faction-hood ...)
Ben Nelson (D-NB)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Tom Carper of (D-DE)
Evan Bayh (D-IN)
(Say It Ain't So) Joe Lieberman (D-CT)
Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) (*)
(ed.note: 'L&P!' designates members who are "Loud and Proud!" in their support of the president's phase-out bill. "OFO?" designates members who may already have "One Foot Out" of the Fainthearted Faction. Linked asterisks (*) note events, statements or stories that have affected a member's position within the Fainthearted Faction.)