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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In Business Week, Howard Gleckman reports that behind the scenes Republicans and Democrats are moving toward a compromise on Social Security. I'd say this has a great deal to do with which Democrats and which Republicans he's talking to. But, as you'll see in the article, which I highly recommend you read, he seems to be painting a picture in which carved out private accounts are tossed, the cap is raised, though not removed, and various benefit cuts are imposed.

There's also this snippet that suggests Ed Kilgore has been on the right track is supposing that Republicans will try to find their way out of this morass by turning it into a tax windfall for upper-income earners ...

There are three possible pieces to such a package. Republicans would like to see income limits removed for IRAs, 401(k)s, and especially Roth IRAs, whose withdrawals are tax-free. Democrats want new savings incentives for low-income workers, and lawmakers of both parties see the need to fix defined-benefit pensions.


There's a lot to talk about here. But, for my part, all of the Democrats' mental energy should be going into strengthening retirement security for middle-income Americans. Period. That's really not an issue to hash out with Republicans because most of the things the president's party wants to do either damages retirement security or is irrelevant to it.

The first and most obvious thing is preserve Social Security. But that's only the start. Democrats should be thinking of other ways to make retirement more secure. Both on substance and because of what it means to be a party in opposition, that's where the Democrats should be focusing their energy, not on finding palatable ways to split some difference with the GOP.

Reading over my email this morning there is, to put it mildly, a strong range of opinions about whether the Democrats did well or not by this deal.

Like I said yesterday or the day before, I'm hoping our new set up will allow you to read what I'm reading, to have this sharing of different viewpoints in one of our new discussion areas. In any case, more about that shortly.

I don't disagree with many of the points made by people who think this was a terrible compromise. Some of the most extreme judges go through. The nuclear option is by no means put to bed. It's just put off at the discretion of the seven Republicans who were party to this deal.

We won't know who did better in this until all of this plays out over the next weeks and months. But I think this was a decent resolution, given the range of options on offer. A working majority in the senate wouldn't consent to Bill Frist's Dobsonian radicalism. This potentially introduces a third force into the operation of the senate. And this will send the Dobsonites into a feeding frenzy of intra-party cannibalism.

As for 'Viva Reid', I think his leadership has been unexpectedly able in the last six months. Understated and unaffected, he's become an able co-worker with the president in the dismantling of the White House agenda and the president's popularity. All things being equal, I've learned to trust his judgment.

Trust but verify, of course, as another pol said.

And along those lines, see this passage from the Matthews show last night sent to me by TPM Reader DL ...

MATTHEWS: Social Security, do you think the president‘s plans for some kind of personal accounts has a better shot now?

GRAHAM: It has a shot versus no shot. And watch this group of 14 to come out with some deal for Social Security.

MATTHEWS: Really?

GRAHAM: Just keep watching.


On this, redoubled effort.

A good deal? A bad deal? We're supposed to say we got a great deal to win clearly through spin what could not be won so clearly on the merits. It seems an awfully bitter pill to forego the filibuster on both Brown and Owen, particularly the former. And the main issue isn't resolved so much as it's delayed. The moderate Republicans agree to preserve the filibuster so long as the Democrats use it in what the moderate Republicans deem a reasonable fashion. And yet the use of the filibuster, by its very nature, almost always seems unreasonable to those whom it is used against.

And finally there's the key problem: the White House. Can this agreement really withstand the appointment of another hard right nominee? The subtext of the compromise must be that neither side will be pushed beyond its limits. But that would, I think, force the Democrats to resort to the filibuster. And then everything, presumably, would unravel from there. It's hard for me to see how this deal survives the sort of appointee President Bush seems all but certain to appoint to the Supreme Court.

Having said all that, the whole tenor of the Republican ultras on the Hill today is to demand unimpeded power, to push past conventions and limits, to go for everything. And here they got turned back. A sensible Republican party might be satisfied to have gotten three of its nominees -- numerically speaking, they did fairly well. But this whole enterprise was based on wanting it all, on not accepting limits, on rejecting government by even a modicum of consensus with a sizeable minority party. They got stopped short. And the senate Republican leadership is undermined.

So this isn't a pleasant compromise. But precisely because the Republicans -- or their leading players -- are absolutists in a way the Democrats are not, I think this compromise will batter them more than it will the minority party, which is after all a minority party which nonetheless managed to emerge from this having fought the stronger force to something like a draw.

Just to follow up on the earlier post about whether there could be a court challenge to the nuclear option, here's what readers have said.

The overwhelming majority of readers who wrote in -- ranging from political junkies to con law profs (many of whom also seem to be political junkies) -- agree with what I've said earlier: absolutely no way this ever gets into court.

A pretty small minority see some arguments that might at least get a hearing. But even they see it as highly unlikely. So all of this suggests that as a practical matter there's no reason to think of this as a serious possibility in evaluating what's transpiring in the senate today.

And just to reaffirm the point, for my part, I think that it certainly should be that way. (I'll try to say more about this in a subsequent post.) This is, at root, a political question. And there's a political remedy: at the ballot box in 2006.

Indeed, if the Democrats' use of the filibuster is really such a bad thing, there's a political remedy for the Republicans too: take it to the voters.

If Republicans believe in their argument and have some confidence about their political future they should take this to the voters next year and ask the voters for the five more senators to confirm any judge they want.

Here's a question I'd be eager to hear your thoughts on.

Many readers have written in asking why it wouldn't either be possible or likely that Dick Cheney's expected ruling that the judicial filibuster is unconstitutional would not itself spawn a series of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality or legality of his opinion.

Presumably, how this would work, I guess, is that some party would file a suit or, I guess, an appeal challenging the legitimacy of the confirmation of one of the judges that will be seated in the wake of the nuclear option. And the aim would be to get a court, eventually the Supreme Court, no doubt, to review the legitimacy of the set of moves we've collectively dubbed 'the nuclear option'.

Now, my very strong assumption has been that courts would simply treat this as a non-justiciable question, that the senate is the final and sole arbiter of how it conducts its business and interprets its own rules. And I still think that.

But in the last few days I've had a number of people write in, who are far more versed in these matters than I am, who suggest that it may well happen. And in a post-Bush v. Gore world, when the Court muscled its way into a contested presidential election and assigned the presidency to the candidate whose party most of them affiliate with, perhaps it's foolish to put anything by them.

So to all you law profs, lawyers and sundry relevant experts: does this seem even remotely conceivable to you? Again, from my understanding of long-established practice, it doesn't to me. And as a separate matter, it seems like a very dangerous and ill-advised step to take.

But again, what do people think?

A number of readers wrote in yesterday about my morning post on the 'futility' of aggressively reporting on the secret British government memo (actually, minutes) which surfaced late in the British election and claimed that the White House was rigging the intelligence on Iraq to support a decision for war as far back as mid-2002.

I was less clear than I should have been. Because what I meant was not that there's no point in aggressively reporting on this issue. My point was rather how astonishing it is that such a revelation should even be news. It truly should be old news -- and thus worthy of little more than passing comment -- since it only provides some further level of support or confirmation for something we know or should know clearly did happen.

It was fairly clear when it was all happening. And after the fact the details have been reported in abundance, not just in obscure publications, but in many of the nation's leading newspapers and magazines, albeit usually shoved to the back pages. And yet the claim -- not the individual morsels of the story, but the whole narrative wrapped together -- still seems wildly controversial. And no one has been held to account, or rather only those who tried to stop the scam while it was afoot or put up some resistance to being coopted into it.

And with all that, why exactly did Sen. Rockefeller(D) of West Virginia roll over when Sen. Roberts (R) of Kansas pulled the plug on the rest of the inquiry into administration manipulation of intelligence on Iraqi WMD?

Yep, just like Kevin says: "This is like watching Darkness at Noon in real life. Newsweek made a small error in a 300-word blurb a couple of weeks ago, and since then the right-wing media hate machine, like a jackal sensing a rare opportunity for blood, has somehow managed to convince them they bear responsibility for riots in Afghanistan that were staged by extremists who obviously used the Newsweek article as nothing more than pretext."

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