Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

This really is quite something.

This page right here is the one I go to to check the weather. It's put out by the National Weather Service. It's a lot like some commercial ones, only it has more information, costs nothing and contains no ads.

But as the Carpetbagger Report notes here, Sen. Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania has introduced a bill that would ban the federal government's meteorologists from making this information available for free since that creates a problem for outfits like The Weather Channel and AccuWeather, which want to sell it.

Plenty of federal legislation these days boils down to this sort of rip-off of the public. But seldom is the equation so clear.

You paid for the data. Your tax dollars fund a massive apparatus of meteorological data collection for reasons ranging from agriculture to disaster safety to keeping airplanes in the air -- everything under the sun. You pay for it and this is just the feds making it available to you on a website. The cost of letting you access it must be minuscule compared to that of collecting it. Indeed, most of the data these other guys sell is stuff they get from the feds or fed-subsidized data collection.

So they're in the business of selling to you the information that your tax dollars already went into collecting. And apparently they add so little added value that they can't handle the competition when the National Weather Service just gives it away. Santorum wants to make these guys into some sort of information age tax farmers.

This article in the Palm Beach Post goes into greater detail on the bill. And you can see from its proponents feeble justifications just what a con this is. They note, for instance, that the bill would not prevent the National Weather Service from alerting the public to imminent disasters, which is awfully generous of them.

Indeed, the executive vice president of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, probably had to have his face specially treated with some sort of fixing agent to prevent him from laughing out loud when he told the Post that the "bill would improve public safety by making the weather service devote its efforts to hurricanes, tsunamis and other dangers, rather than duplicating products already available from the private sector."

You just can't make this stuff up.

As noted earlier, next Tuesday, Sen. Grassley (R) of Iowa is convening the Senate Finance Committee to begin writing a Social Security phase-out bill for passage in the senate. But you don't need to be one of our readers on the committee to make your voice heard.

If you live in the Washington area and you don't like what Sen. Grassley is doing under the president's orders, you can make your voice heard within earshot of the senator at the anti-privatization rally being held on the Upper Senate Park at the corner of Delaware and Constitution Avenues at 1 PM that afternoon, Tuesday, April 26th.

If you want more details, click here. They (Americans United to Protect Social Security) also needs volunteers. So maybe if you can't make it on Tuesday, you can volunteer. For more on that, click here.

Now, maybe you're one of Sen. Grassley's constituents out in Iowa or one of the wobbly Sen. Smith's constituents in Oregon. And you can't make.

No problem.

They're also organizing rallies in a couple dozens cities across the country on Tuesday. They're in Pheonix and Des Moines, in Connecticut and Louisiana, and a bunch of other places. Heck, they're all over the place. So click here if you want to see if there's one you can get to.

It sounds corny. But I get asked by TPM Readers all the time how they can make some difference on Social Security. This stuff makes a big difference. It really does.

Next down the pike from the White House, as you know, is "tax reform." That means either a Flat Tax or a much flatter tax. And whichever names you dress it up with or rationales used to justify it, it's a fancy way to describe putting more of the tax burden on middle income earners.

But an important article that ran last week in the Christian Science Monitor (and which TPM Reader AM brought to my attention yesterday) explains that our tax code is already pretty darn flat.

According to the article (which relies on statistics compiled by the Congressional Budget Office and the irreplaceable Bob McIntyre at Citizens for Tax Justice), the top 1% of earners currently pay an effective rate of 32.8%, when federal, state and local taxes are added together. The bottom 99%, meanwhile, pays 29.4%. And even more striking figure is the effective rate paid by the middle 20% on the income scale. That's, pretty much by definition, middle income earners -- whose average income is $34,500. They pay an effective rate of 27%.

So the top 1% (average income=$978,000) pays 32.8% and the middle 20% (average income=$34,500) pays 27%. I'd say that's pretty flat already.

Now, an important part of the equation is state and local taxes, which tend to be fairly regressive. But even when you look at only federal taxes, the tilt isn't that great.

Needless to say, the effect of all President Bush's tax cuts has been to make the tax code more flat -- and, of course, intentionally so. That's the agenda.

From the bootlicks to power at The Note: "While the filibuster fight and Social Security are giving the opposition party rare unity, it doesn't mean the Democrats necessarily have any good ideas, any plan for the future, or any capacity to make gains from all this."

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 ...

Wyoming’s 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.

"I’m willing to talk about it, but I’m 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.

On Powell and Bolton, the former's critics will, quite fairly, point out that Powell waited until Bolton's nomination had sustained what were quite probably fatal knocks before choosing to go public -- when the costs and risks were low and the potential pay-off high. Sort of the Powell Doctrine applied to Washington politics, you might say.

Is Powell stepping forward to put Bolton out of his misery?

Articles in Friday's NYTimes and Post describe how the former Secretary of State (and Bolton's boss in the first administration) has been doing what amounts to behind-the-scenes lobbying against Bolton's nomination.

The truth is that Powell is very much not the only Republican foreign policy heavyweight working in private to scuttle Bolton's nomination. But the degree to which he's going public is sort of extraordinary. While giving no comments himself and not explicitly stating he's bad-mouthing Bolton, Powell did authorize his spokesperson to confirm on the record that he has had recent phone conversations with Sens. Chafee and Hagel about Bolton while quite pointedly giving no reason to think much of anything he said was positive. If you look further into the articles you can see pretty transparently that on background Powell's people confirmed in some detail just what the former Secretary is doing.

That may well be fatal to Bolton's nomination. The foothold Bolton's supporters have in this fight is their contention that the only reason Bolton's in trouble is that Democrats are trying to take him down to score political points. Indeed, President Bush made that argument just yesterday. But Powells now-public lobbying knocks that argument right out of the park.

Republican senators looking to deny the White House this nomination need some partisan cover; and Powell just gave it to them.

More DeLay shenanigans on the Energy Bill. See this site to see how it might affect you.

Late Update: There's also this, the League of Conservation Voters' list of Tom's Tainted Team (I kinda like the sound of that), the ten members of the House who Tom relies on most when he wants to carry the water of companies polluting your drinking water with MTBE.

The Hill reports that Sen. Santorum (R) wants to slow down the push the for nuclear option in the senate after seeing that the issue isn't polling well for the Republicans.

There's also <$NoAd$> this ...

GOP aides said Santorum has made known to the leadership reasons for why Republicans should not move forward on the nuclear or constitutional option.

“He was concerned that too many things are competing in the same area and you couldn’t get a clean shot at it,” a GOP aide said. The aide cited the “fallout” from congressional Republicans’ intervening in a Florida court’s decision to remove Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube and the subsequent controversy caused by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) statement that “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

Democrats portrayed that statement as an incitement against judges, and it resulted in a spate of media critiques of DeLay and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who made a speech on the Senate floor raising the question of why judges are targets of violence.

Senate and House Democrats have woven the Republican intervention in the Schiavo issue, DeLay’s statement about judges who declined to save her life, and GOP consideration of the nuclear option into a broad message that Republicans are abusing power. John Bolton’s stalled nomination to become U.N. ambassador has also become a distraction.

Abusing power.

Is anyone listening to this?

In remarks yesterday before the Bond Market Association -- one of the hardest partying groups on the street -- Treasury Secretary John Snow explicitly linked the administration's efforts to cut the deficit to the push to partially phase-out Social Security. The logic of that statement points to only one conclusion: the deficits the administration has run up with upper-income tax cuts will be reduced by benefit cuts in Social Security.

It's not about strengthening Social Security; it's about cleaning up the mess created by the president's tax cuts.