Sheryl Gay Stolberg has


Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a nice piece in tomorrow’s Times about how central the Social Security debate has become for Dems.

In the portion discussing potential waverers, she writes…

One such Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, has taken a tentative step toward working across party lines, by attending a private meeting with Republicans, led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to talk about Social Security. But Mr. Graham’s idea, to increase Social Security taxes as a way of financing the transition to private accounts, is not in favor at the White House.

Another Democrat from a heavily Republican state, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, joined Republicans to help pass Mr. Bush’s tax cuts and prescription drug coverage for the elderly. But Mr. Baucus, who as the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is the party’s point man on Social Security, says he will not join the president in the current fight.

Across the Capitol in the House, Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., Democrat of Tennessee, has in the past embraced the concept of private accounts. But Mr. Ford, who intends to seek the Senate seat being vacated in 2006 by the Republican leader, Bill Frist, also opposes Mr. Bush’s plan.

“The math isn’t right,” Mr. Ford said, adding that while he liked “the idea of building wealth,” he did not favor using private accounts to replace any of the guaranteed Social Security benefit.

A couple points.

First, the<$Ad$>mention of Sen. Nelson (D) of Nebraska seems incomplete without noting that he has now explicitly come out in favor of add-on accounts rather than carved-out accounts favored by President Bush and even more emphatically against changing benefits to tie them to inflation rather than wages.

Not enough to get him out of the Faction yet. But a pretty big deal.

Then there’s Rep. Harold Ford,Jr. (D) of Tennessee, former Dean of the Fainthearted Faction. Ford put out a statement last month saying he did not back the president’s bill or approach. But he still seemed to leave the door open to privatization, perhaps when the country’s fiscal house was in better order.

No more, it seems.

Stolberg doesn’t use an exact quote. But she paraphrases him saying no private accounts to replace “any of the guaranteed Social Security benefit.”

If she’s got the nuance of what he told her right, that’s a lot more than he’s been willing to say to date (maybe it’s that senate announcement coming up late next month?). If he said that himself, he’d be out of the Faction entirely.