Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The latest from TPM False Equivalence Watch (TM).

Today from CBS News ...

Is there a Social Security crisis? Mr. Bush says yes, the Democrats say no. They say the system as is can deliver the promised benefits until at least 2042. And they say minor revenue increases and benefits made soon can safeguard Social Security for much longer. They say the "crisis" is made up so the administration can start experimenting with private Social Security accounts.

And THAT, the Democrats say, is a crisis. They believe the administration’s proposal to offer optional, voluntary private accounts would start an inexorable avalanche on the slippery slope of privatizing Social Security, of taking away government guaranteed payments to old people. They think it’s an evil plot by evil-doers. A crisis. That’s their crisis-mongering.

On the facts, the Democrats are right to say that Social Security doesn’t pose an immediate crisis. But in defining the issues supporting an aging population so narrowly, the Democrats are every bit as disingenuous as the administration. When you put Social Security on top of Medicare, on top of rising medical costs and in the context of a shrinking workforce and expanding elderly population, you have something pretty close to a crisis. But it’s not one either party is talking much about.

Nice try.

Let's address two points. If President Bush is whipping up a phony crisis, as he did during the lead up to Iraq, to shred the social safety net which has made poverty among the elderly close to a thing of the past and provides financial security in the face <$Ad$> of premature death, disability and other blows of fate at other points in life, that's a bad thing that should be fought at every opportunity. Opposing it simply cannot be put on the same moral footing as perpetrating it.

On the other hand, if the Democrats are wrong, and there really is a dire crisis, which they are ignoring for political reasons, then they're in the wrong.

The point is that you cannot duck the moral question by ignoring the factual question, which is what the author seems intent on doing in this case, thus creating the standard 'they all do it' moral equivalence.

Then there's the issue of Medicare and spiralling health care costs. The funding challenges facing Medicare really are far more acute than those facing Social Security. But they are also qualitatively different. For all the demographic challenges facing Social Security, the costs it is meant to cover are fundamentally stable -- factored against inflation. What are they? Rents, food, the basic costs of living, etc. It is in the case of health care where, for all the arguments about frivolous lawsuits or greedy drug companies, we face the basic 'problem' of an expanding array life-saving and life-extending technologies that cost money.

But Medicare and health care costs are a different and in many respects distinct issue. The fact that the president lies about Social Security while ignoring the more pressing challenges facing Medicare should be marked against him, not the Democrats.

And in any case, what sense does it make to pillory those who deny Social Security is in crisis just because when you combine it together with a bunch of other issues, which are in some ways related, all of them together may almost constitute a crisis? This is rather like saying, Iraq is no crisis. But when you combine Iraq with North Korea and Iran, non-state-terrorism, a possible global resource shortage in the next century and global warming, all together it's pretty close to a crisis.

Maybe so. But who cares? It's a non-sequitur. The president has forced a debate on Social Security -- not the long-term fiscal outlook of the country or rising health care costs. And while Social Security, as a major government expense, is related to both, the program's structure -- which is what President Bush wants changed -- is distinct from each. And if all that weren't enough the president's proposals don't address this broader array of problems -- at least not anymore than abolishing Social Security clears up problems tied to its funding.

It is almost as if the author cannot get himself to bite the factual bullet of who's crisis mongering and who's not. So he cobbles together another crisis to make up for the insufficiencies of the one the president is flogging in order to find one the Democrats are ignoring, even though this debate and changes to this program are what the president is forcing on the country.

A pretty decent account of the dishonesty of President Bush's Social Security 'crisis' fear-mongering from MSNBC.

If you're up on the subject, the details may not surprise you. But the source may.

Here is a graceful and concise summary from Paul Starr of The American Prospect of what Social Security provides for American society and what the president's phase-out option never can.

From The Hill ("Centrists steer clear of Social Security plans") ...

“Republicans need moderate Democrats to be a part of this process to get cover,” the Senate GOP aide said. “If there are no Democrats who are going to come across here, you may have some revolt within the Republicans.”


Any Rhode Islanders out there?

As I've mentioned once or twice in the past I lived in Providence, Rhode Island from 1992 to 1997, loved it, and still have a special fondness for the place. (Strange, but true TPM trivia: When I was a graduate student at Brown in the mid-1990s I did web design to supplement my essentially non-existent income. In 1996, when Sen. Jack Reed (D) first ran for Senate I got his campaign to let me design his campaign website -- for free, of course.)

In any case, this isn't a walk down memory lane. I ask because of that other Rhode Island senator, Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee. Chafee is in our Conscience Caucus because of a statement he made last month about the president's Social Security phase-out bill, and even more because of his demonstrated record of bucking the president on major policy initiatives like the 2001 tax cut bill, which twelve senate Dems voted for. If there was one Senate Republican I'd figure was most likely to go against the president on phasing-out Social Security, it's Lincoln Chafee.

But as near as I can tell he hasn't told his constituents any more about his views on the phase-out bill for the last month or more. Even back then all he said about the it was that "it's the wrong time and I regret that we're looking at this in the context of huge deficits."

I would imagine that either the Projo (aka, the Providence Journal-Bulletin, the major paper in the state) or a few of his million or sp constituents could prevail upon him to provide a little more detail about where he stands on phasing out Social Security and replacing with private investment accounts.

Republicans from the Chafee family have a charmed life in Rhode Island, notwithstanding the state's ocean blue politics. But that's largely because even as the state's politics have diverged so sharply from the national Republican party, Chafee and his late father let Rhode Islanders have it both ways. They have a Republican in Washington; but one that seldom gets much out of step with the state on key issues.

Social Security, though, is a pretty defining issue, and one that I'd expect many of the senator's constituents care a lot about. As I say, I suspect, in the end, Sen. Chafee won't support the president's phase-out plan. But here's the thing: by keeping mum and cagey about his position now, especially during this early, crucial phase of the debate, he may actually doing a lot to make a Social Security phase-out a reality. On the other hand, stating his position early and clearly might go almost as far toward saving Social Security as eventual vote against the president's bill. It could even be more important.

The New York Sun, December 2nd, 2004: "Yet another [senator] with perceived presidential ambitions, Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania, is viewed as potentially the most effective White House point man on the [Social Security] issue, in part because he has been a staunch supporter of accounts but does not have his own bill or a personal stake in a particular proposal. 'He has spoken out since his days in the House and has run two senatorial campaigns that talked about reform in a swing state - and lived to tell about it,' Mr. John said."

Does he still want to be point-man?

We've been trying to find public statements from the senator on the president's Social Security phase-out plan. And they're really hard to find over the last six or seven weeks. There's no question he still supports it: here's the statement of support on his website. We just can't find many recent statements.

Statement of Michael K. Powell, FCC Chairman: "In response to recent reports regarding potential violations of the "payola" and sponsorship identification provisions of the Communications Act, I have instructed the Enforcement Bureau to open two investigations: One into issues regarding commentator Armstrong Williams; and the other into issues regarding station WKSE (FM), Niagara Falls, New York, licensed a subsidiary of Entercom Communications Corporation. These provisions govern disclosure and sponsorship identification regarding payments or other consideration in connection with broadcast programs."

The Sibel Edmonds story has rattled through the alternative press for quite a long time now, only occasionally bubbling up into the mainstream media. But today she enlisted a new supporter, one which carries a good bit of weight -- the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General.

In a just-released unclassified summary of their report into her allegations, the IG concluded that while not all of her allegations could be substantiated, "we believe that many of her allegations were supported, that the FBI did not take them seriously enough, and that her allegations were, in fact, the most significant factor in the FBI's decision to terminate her services."

Rep. Aderholt (R) of Alabama <$NoAd$> says president is "sort of" lying?

Aderholt agrees with reform critics who say Social Security is not in crisis. Aderholt said he believes reform is needed, but there is no reason to rush the reform effort.

"It's sort of deceiving when we talk about the situation being that we are on the brink of disaster. We're not. It will be several decades before the system goes bankrupt," Aderholt said.

Aderholt worries that political rhetoric designed to push legislation through Congress will scare his retired constituents.

See the rest from the Decatur Daily.

We're hearing from many readers across the country who are calling or writing to their representatives and senators only to hear that they can't make any public comment because the president hasn't released his plan yet.

"The staffer I talked to this afternoon in Senator [blank]'s office," says one reader, "told me that they had been waiting to go public because they didn't have a concrete proposal to respond to."


This sort of mumbojumbo might have some logic from a Republican up for reelection next year who's trying to be as cautious as possible. But why would any Democrat -- like the recently-reelected senator from the Northwest whose office the reader contacted -- be saying something so foolish? The White House has its own reasons for pretending they haven't decided on a specific plan yet. But why do the president's opponents have to pretend that that's really true?

Everybody in the country who's paying any attention to this debate knows the essence of the president's plan -- he wants to replace a portion of Social Security with private investment accounts. How he fudges the numbers on the cost side or deals with benefit cuts remains a bit muddled. But the fundamental point is as clear as day.

So why should any senator or representative be waiting one minute to make their position clear, unless he or she is seriously entertaining the idea of voting for the president's plan?

How many details of an upper-income-earner tax hike do most Republicans need to see before they're willing to say they oppose it?

Yeah, that's my sense too.

To be cagey like this is not only a disservice, even a dishonesty, to constituents, it's also the height of foolishness for any lawmaker who really cares about preserving Social Security and not letting the president end the program.