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.