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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Third try's the charm? With 'nuclear option' up in a mushroom cloud, and 'constitutional option' down the memory hole, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky this morning introduced "Byrd Option" as the new GOP-approved word for abolishing the filibuster.

Reporters should be getting their notices shortly.

Late Update: See the video of McConnell in action trying out "Byrd Option".

Over at the TPM Bankruptcy Bill blog, Prof. Elizabeth Warren is putting out a call for questions that should be put to credit card industry executives (among others) when they appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. Take a look at what she has to say.

Down for the Count?

Here's a story that deserves a bit more attention but hasn't, to the best of my knowledge, gotten much play outside Indiana.

Republicans have gone to great lengths to protect Rep. Chris "The Count" Chocola (R) of Indiana from any fall out over his support for partially phasing out Social Security.

Actually, they've put almost as much effort into running cover for Chocola over his history of flip-flopping on the issue since in 2000 he said he was for complete phase-out, followed by a 2002 stance against phase-out, and a current stance in favor of partial phase-out.

But I digress.

Social Security has become a hot issue in Chocola's district -- occasioning even a visit from President Bush a couple months ago. And back on Monday, Rev. Lisa Doege of South Bend's First Unitarian Church was planning to hold a program on the topic of Social Security at the church, which included Notre Dame Professor Teresa Ghilarducci, a pension policy expert who President Clinton appointed to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's advisory board and Indiana Governor O'Bannon appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees of the State of Indiana Public Employees Pension Board.

But Monday afternoon Doege got a call from State Representative Luke Messer, the executive director of the Indiana Republican party, who warned her that her church's program on Social Security might cost the church its tax-exempt status.

According to this AP article, Messer based his claim on his understanding "that Ghilarducci was active in Democratic politics and contributed to the campaign of Joe Donnelly, who ran against Republican Rep. Chris Chocola in last year's election." The information had come from Chris Faulkner, Chairman of the St. Joseph County GOP.

Messer, as expected, says no threat was intended. The call was purely informational. And apparently he wanted a pro-privatization speaker included in the program.

But I think the nature of the interchange -- a state party chairman warning a minister that her church might lose its tax-exempt status if she didn't include his phase-out-enthusiast in a program her Church was holding on Social Security -- speaks for itself.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, Rep. Chocola has made no public comment about whether he believes Messer's actions were appropriate.

There seems to be a rising chorus of claims that, even if the expected shortfalls in Social Security funding are still almost forty years in the future, every year that goes by the cost and difficulty of fixing the problem increases. But this makes no sense, especially since President Bush's proposed means of 'fixing' Social Security's shortfall turn entirely and exclusively on cuts in guaranteed benefits.

Here's what I mean: If the issue was prefunding Social Security as a social insurance program, then the sooner we start doing that the better. But President Bush has specifically ruled out new funds (i.e., increased tax revenue) as part of the solution. So no dice there.

In fact, it's even worse than that since President Bush has also ruled out the existing funding mechanism by which any sort of pre-funding could take place.

Again, allow me to explain.

Let's say we immediately cut everyone's Social Security benefits by 20% -- just across the board; everybody, high and low, gets hit the same. I can barely manage simple division anymore; so I'll leave it to the econ folks to figure out the particulars. But if we cut payouts by 20% that would leave Social Security with a substantially larger annual surplus. That would mean more money socked away into the Trust Fund every year. And the Trust Fund would last much longer.

Not only would the Trust Fund last longer because there's more money in it, but it would pay down more slowly because everyone's benefits would be smaller.

But the president doesn't believe that the Trust Fund exists as a funding mechanism. Set aside all the word-games and disagreements about IOUs and real assets. The president doesn't believe the Trust Fund materially improves the solvency of Social Security because he doesn't believe those Treasury notes constitute a real asset. To him, it's just a book-keeping ledger calling for higher taxes down the road.

Indeed, it would be foolish for current beneficiaries of the program, or people currently paying payroll taxes, to fatten up the Trust Fund in this way so long as the current president isn't even willing to stipulate that the money will be paid back.

Given the options the president will allow, the only option left available is to take a portion of the Trust Fund and invest it in stocks in one aggregated fund, rather than in private accounts. This would be similar to how state pension funds work. But even that doesn't pan out because the president has again and again said he opposes investing Trust Fund revenues in this way because it would lead to the government owning too much of the private economy.

That leads us back to what seems to me to be the unavoidable conclusion that, given the options that President Bush will allow, it won't be any harder or more costly to 'fix' Social Security five or ten or any number of years into the future than it is today. And that's because we can cut benefits whenever we want.

Sen. Roberts (R) of Kansas, a bamboozler on Niger uranium, now says he has doubts about using the nuclear option to end judicial filibusters.

Originally I understood that this picture was taken when Sen. Bill Frist visited a shoe store in downtown DC earlier today to tender an offer to have the establishment renamed in honor of the Frist family.

But it turned out the situation was entirely different.

Apparently, Sen. Frist today went to purchase some shoes at a downtown DC shoe shack by the name of Allen-Edmonds, where he dropped more than five hundred bucks on two pairs of shoes.

Unfortunately, upstairs from Allen-Edmonds was the Campaign for America's Future and the big anti-privatization group Americans United To Protect Social Security.

They pulled together an impromptu demonstration -- with 30 to 50 people -- against Sen. Frist's support for phasing out Social Security and replacing it with private accounts.

You can click here to see some of the fun.

Indignity of indignities ...

The (quasi) hometown paper of the Frist Filibuster students, the Trenton Times, has a story about the students triumphal entry into Washington a couple days ago to bring their filibuster to the Capitol steps.

But down in the text we have this description of what they're trying to accomplish (emphasis added): "Opponents call the bid to end filibusters the 'nuclear option' while advocates, such as Frist, say all court nominees deserve a vote and that some have been waiting years for the Senate to act."

(ed.note: Thanks to TPM Reader EW for sending us word of this small heartbreak.)

Krauthammer opts for the limited modified bamboozle: "Democrats have won the semantic war by getting this branded "the nuclear option," a colorful and deliberately inflammatory term (although Republican Trent Lott, ever helpful, appears to have originated the term)."

Still wildly misleading to readers, of course. But in this case any small motions toward candor, etc.

Meanwhile, The Note retreats to the pre-testicular "filibuster reform."

(ed.note: Props to TPM Reader DW and JD.)

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