Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh


Just out from CQToday ...

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow indicated Wednesday that the White House would accept a Social Security overhaul that does not divert the program’s payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts, a major shift in the administration’s position.

More soon ...

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Lieberman not a Faction man after all?

See today's update in the New Haven Register (registration required).

I'll be busy with some non-TPM responsibilities for the next couple hours. But more on the new article then.

New Bamboozlepalooza appearances <$NoAd$> are slated for Alabama, Louisiana and New Jersey.

On that score, we were interested to see that the Montgomery Advertiser puts Sen. Shelby (R) down as a member of the Conscience Caucus. Specifically, they call him one of the state's two Republican "holdouts" on the Bush Social Security plan.

In Westfield, New Jersey, the president's host, Rep. Mike Ferguson (R), says the president "wants to speak to, listen to and talk to residents from around the state."

But the town's lone Democratic town councilman notes that...

If the event is being billed as a town hall meeting for the purpose of eliciting views on one of his policy initiatives, there would be an expectation that people having differing views may be in attendance.

This of course is a reference to the apparent decision to restrict the townhall meeting to avowed supporters of the president.

On the other hand, Rep. Ferguson doesn't think there's a problem...

My sense is the people who would be most interested in being in an event with the president will be ones who are supporters... And I think it's important to hear constructive criticism ... that doesn't include disruptive behavior or obnoxiousness.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R) of Florida is to appear tomorrow on C-SPAN's Washington Journal where she presumably will not be able to have all questions screened in advance.

And we will, of course, have more coming on the Count.

Quite a strong couple days for the phase-out forces, wasn't it?

The Post and the Times tomorrow both have articles that all but call the president's push for private accounts dead. And while I'm not near ready to go that far, it certainly does look like the more people hear, the less they like it.

The most publicized data point in this regard is the recent USAToday/CNN poll which shows, across a series of related questions, that the president has fallen about ten points on Social Security in the last month. It's not quite free-fall, though it's probably enough to induce a bit of a sensation of weightlessness. But this sounding is in line with other recent polls which have pointed to a similar deterioration.

But with all this bad blood, I think I can see the path to a bipartisan compromise, at least between the White House and the Democrats, if not with the congressional GOP. President Bush wants to keep hitting the hustings in Republican-held districts and pressuring wavering GOP representatives to sign on to Social Security phase-out, hoping that persistence will shift the trendline back in favor of private accounts. And at this point I think the Democratic leadership up on the hill probably agrees that this is a very good thing.

Let's all take a deep breath, appreciate the gravity of the moment, and then burst out laughing at the hapless representative from the 4th district of Louisiana, Rep. Jim McCrery (R).

Since it garnered a lot of media attention, you probably saw that the Campaign for America's Future -- one of the lead pro-Social Security advocacy groups -- started running ads in McCrery's district knocking him for being in the pocket of Wall Street interests set to gain from privatization.

It was a tough ad. But in the day of Swift Boats and the gay-loving AARP, it hardly charted any new territory in aggressive political speech. And it had the added benefit of being pretty undeniably factual.

So what does our man McCrery do? He's threatening to bring the courts in to enforce the Social Security speech code and get the ad pulled off the air.

According to an AP story which ran mid-evening on Tuesday, Rep. McCrery had his lawyer write a letter to the stations running the ad claiming that the ad is false and defamatory and threatening that running it "exposes you to possible legal liability."

And what was the defamatory claim, exactly?

The letter says what's defamatory is the ad's claim "U.S. Rep. McCrery wants to privatize Social Security and cut our guaranteed benefits."

This one really shoots McCrery to the top of the list of arch-social security bamboozlers. Republicans don't have to call privatization 'privatization' anymore. And they can try to jawbone reporters out of using the term. But presumably the word itself has yet to become itself a cause of action. And cut your guaranteed benefits? Can't we hit McCrery's dingbat lawyer for threatening like a frivolous lawsuit or something? No one denies that the president's plan will cut guaranteed benefits. The claim is only that private accounts might make up the shortfall.

I mean, it's hard to know how much to belabor this man's ridiculousness. But perhaps it is enough to see it as a sign of the low ebb to which phase-out has arrived that a representative who has already flip-flopped on this issue twice in the last six weeks is now responding to a hostile political ad by threatening legal action for making claims that are demonstrably factual.

From the Post: "The Treasury Department yesterday announced the formation of a Social Security 'war room' ... The war room, which the administration is calling the Social Security Information Center, will track lawmakers' remarks to their local news outlets, to help the White House detect signs of Republican concern or Democratic compromise."

Gone for a day and someone tries to poach my gig?

Alright I'm outta here ... Back to Ed.

I'm gonna turn over the keys to this operation for a couple days. So this is a sign-off post. But before I go, a few points.

First off, every sign I see tells me that Sen. Lieberman is looking to cut a deal of some sort with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina and thus with the White House. It would be a kinder, gentler phase-out. But phase-out just the same.

Individually, Lieberman's vote isn't that consequential. At present I don't think the White House could get majority votes for a phase-out bill in either chamber. But give the president and the congressional leadership that bipartisan cover they've been hunting for and things could change very, very quickly. Lieberman would probably put a few more Senate Dems in play and also firm up the whole Republican caucus. Same thing in the House.

As I said, I think the probable deal involves raising the cap and using those new funds for private accounts, thus getting around the idea that it's a 'carve-out'. Of course, you can imagine other permutations. And there's no limit to the policy creativity of a truly faint heart. Whether such a compromise would ever fly or not is another question. But I suspect it's largely beside the point because once you're to that point you're into a process of legislative horse-trading and conference committees. And whether or not some people on the hill realize it, the Republicans control both houses of congress and the White House. So at that point they can pretty much do what they want.

You do have to wonder -- really, really wonder -- about the roots of the urge to split the difference on phase-out seeing as the public is against it and turning more against with time. The policy and the politics are both lined up on one side of the ledger on this one. This isn't about garnering lots of press as the dealmaker, invites to the chat shows or the yearned-for plaudits of an increasingly right-leaning dinner-party centrism. And it shouldn't be about angling for mentions in the Post's increasingly fatuous Social Security editorials. This is about saving Social Security and now about preserving it for a long time to come.

So, Lieberman's the weakpoint in the wall against Social Security phase-out. Sen. Carper too -- but, my gut tells me, not as much as Joe. So if there's a time to pull out all the stops to save Social Security, to mobilize pressure and exert coercive persuasion, now's the time and Lieberman's the guy.

If anything, the press coverage has understated just had badly the Republicans got hammered out in those townhalls last week. So I'm going to be really curious to see if there are any more shake-ups in the Conscience Caucus as a result. I've gotten a partial transcript of some of the stuff Rep. Chris Chocola (R) of Indiana said at his townhall meeting back in South Bend. So there's more of his funny-business to be discussed. Even more though, watch for signs of lots of them wanting to cut a deal and get out.

So, that's it for me for now. I'm going to be turning over the keys to Ed Kilgore of NewDonkey.com and the Democratic Leadership Council. (And for those of you who are most accustomed to thinking of the DLC as a topic in theodicy, be nice.) Ed's a good friend. I'm a big fan of his site. And he's an extremely shrewd observer of American politics in all its facets, both high and low. I'm looking forward to reading what he has to say.

I'm a big fan of Sen. Joe Biden (D) of Delaware. But I usually figure him for a foreign policy and judiciary guy, rather than a big hitter on domestic policy. But take a look at his appearance today with Sen. Santorum (R) on Meet The Press (which you can see here and read here).

He hits all the key points. Like: "No matter how you cut it, this real debate on personal accounts is about the legitimacy of Social Security; it's not about the solvency of Social Security."

Yes, just so.

Or this: "And the presumption that Social Security can't meet its obligations rests on the notion that the federal government will default, something it's never done in 220 years, on an obligation, on Treasury notes, IOUs, just like the IOUs Japan has and other countries have in terms of buying our Treasury bonds. And so I don't think we'll default."

So true!

It was a minor masterpiece of counter-bamboozlism.