Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Social Security joke of the evening.

In parliamentary-speak, a 'whip' is a member of the leadership charged with 'whipping' straying members of the party back into line on major votes. The Senate Dems, for instance, have four deputy whips whose job it is to get strayers into line on pivotal issues like, say, Social Security.

Only, in this case, one of the four deputy whips is none other than Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, Dean of the senate's Fainthearted Faction.

So in addition to getting whipped by Sens. Boxer, Feingold and Nelson of Florida, he now also needs to whip himself.

Sen. Tom Carper (D) of Delaware: "I don't believe that we should rule out the accounts. We have a very low savings rate in this country and clearly need to find ways to stimulate savings, and I think we should be open to a wide range of ideas and not dismiss them out of hand."

Carper is the new Dean of the Senate Fainthearted Faction.

(ed.note: The Senate Deanship was temporarily vacant and held on a contingent basis by Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida, who is fainthearted enough for both chambers. However, Carper has now sufficiently distinguished himself to resume the post.)

Sen. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota is going to be on the Stephanopoulos show this weekend. Maybe he can clear up some of those Faintheartedness questions from last month.

Did Rep. Allen Boyd, the Panhandle Poltroon, get the memo?

The Dean of the Fainthearted Faction (Actually through a special motion, Boyd is now Dean of both the House and Senate Factions, because of his profound Faintheartedness) has been telling his constituents that he's for private accounts because it's the only responsible thing to do to make sure Social Security remains solvent for future generations.

"Keeping this vital program intact," he said last week, "for those who depend on it today and in the future, is a commitment I will not ignore."

But yesterday, the cosponsor of his own bill, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) told the Arizona Republic that "Personal accounts don't solve the problem. I've never argued they solve the problem."

Kolbe went on to tell them that private accounts are essentially a sweetener to get younger workers to go along with big benefit cuts. As Kolbe put it to a hypothetical young worker: "Look, sorry your benefits are going to be cut in the future and you're going to be paying more taxes to support this system, but there is something in it for you."

We were also interested to see that Boyd apparently told the Wall Street Journal that he "opposes big borrowing" to make things right with Social Security. But even Kolbe says their plan costs $600 billion. Actually, $1.1 trillion, but they say they get $500 billion back.

Our man Boyd, always the last to know.

By the way, any progress on getting someone to run against this guy?

Another entry for the Wisdom of Katherine Harris anthology.

This from the AP, Harris talking about President Bush at the Bamboozlepalooza event in Tampa ...

One of those in attendance, Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., quoted the president as saying he recognized the political difficulty involved in tackling such legislation. "He said this is hard.... But he said it's not as hard as sending young men and women off to war," she said.

We've slotted Harris down as FIW in the Conscience Caucus, as if there were ever any question.

Blessed are we that TPM has readers like TPM Reader DP who calls our attention to this hilarious passage in the Hastert interview in the Tribune ...

"You're going to have less money coming in than goes out and indeed, that's a crisis point, that's a problem we have to address," [Hastert] said, calling the program "a Ponzi scheme," but quickly adding that he did not mean it in derogatory way.

Must be hard to have to switch back and forth between Cato-speak and District-speak when it comes to Social Security ...

Rep. Chris Shays (R) of Connecticut is very much in the president's handful on phasing out Social Security. Here's a Charlie Cook article that discusses Diane Farrell and whether she'll decide to challenge Shays again in 2006.

Farrell held Shays to 52% of the vote last November. And as Cook rightly notes, "despite her 2004 loss, Farrell is one of the strongest challengers her party could field in 2006."

Here's Farrell's campaign website from last cycle. And here's her bio.

Financial services industry types notwithstanding, how popular is phase-out in Connecticut? How about in Bridgeport? And in any case, most people who really understand and respect financial markets realize this is a lousy idea anyway. After all, Bob Rubin and John Corzine are both on the right side. And I hear Goldman does some financial services work.

Speaker Denny Hastert (R) of Illinois: "You can't jam change down the American people's throat."

That and more in the Chicago Tribune's interview with Hastert and his discussion of the problems the president is having selling phase-out to congressional Republicans and the American people.

A stumble after a run of good Social Security news articles from the Post.

On A3 today, Michael Fletcher discusses the part of the president's pitch in which he argues that shorter lifespans make Social Security a bad deal or unfair to African-Americans.

Down into the piece Fletcher mentions some of the key critiques of this argument -- the disproportionate benefit African-Americans get from the survivors' and disability portions of Social Security, as well as the program's progressive benefit structure, which also gives a disproportionate benefit to people with low-incomes.

What goes wholly unmentioned is that the way lifespan statistics are used in this argument is inherently misleading.

African-Americans have substantially shorter lifespans than whites -- a fact the president seems concerned about primarily, or perhaps exclusively, as an argument for phasing out Social Security. The argument being that African-Americans don't have as many benefit-collecting years as whites and thus get a worse 'rate of return' on their payroll contributions.

The problem with this argument is that most of the difference in lifespan is tied to death in childhood and early adulthood -- before people have any ability to pay substantial amounts into Social Security and at ages when Social Security survivor benefits are particularly important.

(The issue is discussed in this Paul Krugman column from January 28th.)

This fact receives no mention in the Post article.


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