Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.)

Chip Reid 'nuclear option' bamboozlement relapse on tonight's NBC Nightly News reported by TPM Reader JLK!

We're hearing slightly divergent reports about the precise wording of Reid's renewed bamboozlement. And we'll bring you a verified report when it becomes available.

But you'll remember Reid had his first reported case of nuclear bamboozlement -- even going so far as to confuse the response to the nuclear option with the nuclear option itself -- on the morning of April 25th on Imus.

Later that evening he attempted a debamboozle on the Nightly News.

Conceivably he may now seek to debamboozle on tomorrow's Imus.

MediaMatters gets the Medved tape.

No response yet from the Count.

Late Update: We are in touch with MediaMatters personnel to ascertain who will be awarded the shirt.

The Times' Neil Lewis, <$NoAd$>caught between the bam and the boozle in this just-released piece ...

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the committee, who has tried to embarrass both sides into forging a compromise, blamed both Democrats and his Republican colleagues for the situation.

"If the Democrats voted their conscience and the Republicans weren't bound by the party line straitjacket," he said, there would be no need to change the rules and precipitate the impending crisis.

He said that the "nuclear-constitutional option" was "the talk of the Senate floor" and that "people are talking about it with an intensity."

His "nuclear-constitutional" label for the rules change was a combination of both sides' terms. Democrats have called the rules change the "nuclear" option, emphasizing its destructive potential. Republicans have taken to calling it the "constitutional" option, stressing their assertion that it is in accord with the Constitution, which does not explicitly provide for the filibuster.

Calling this the "nuclear-constitutional option" would seem to raise certain nettlesome originalism issues unless the Founders were even more farsighted than some of us have been willing to imagine. And it's possible that Specter was trying for a subtle homage to Tim Russert's famous "private personal accounts" walkaround. But on the face of it I can't tell who's more tied up in knots, Specter or Lewis.

Feel the buzz in your pocket the moment Bill Frist goes nuclear!

And, no, it's not as weird as it sounds!

People for the American Way is setting up a "Nuclear Option" Mass Immediate Response which may even prove more effective than those drills we had in grade school where you kneel under the desk. (Actually, come to think of it, those memories I have from Southern California in the 1970s must have been earthquake drills. But, hey, with age the memory fades.)

You can sign up here and you'll get the word by text message the moment that Sen. Bill "That Building Has My Name on It" Frist pulls the nuclear trigger and info on who you can call to make your opposition heard.