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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Alas, the real details come out about president's new benefit cut and phase-out plan. Jason Furman has more.

Charlie Cook on the Bug Man in Winter (thematically if not seasonally) ...

On the political front, DeLay's re-election situation is dicier than commonly thought.

Are DeLay's ethical and legal problems much worse than they were on Election Day last November and are voters back home aware of it? Absolutely.

Is the political climate more difficult for DeLay now than back in November? Yes. From Social Security and gasoline prices to Iraq and the absence of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as a whipping boy, things aren't as good for Republicans today as they were six months ago.

Finally, does DeLay face more formidable opposition if he seeks re-election in 2006 than he did last year, when he beat neophyte Democrat Richard Morrison 55-41 percent, with a Libertarian candidate and an independent each garnering 2 percent? Yes.

Former Rep. Nick Lampson, who represented about 20 percent of this district before a DeLay-engineered redistricting, is the strong frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Lampson might face Houston City Councilman Gordon Quan in a March primary.

Given the substantially greater adversity that DeLay faces today, it might be enough to cost him 5 to 9 percentage points and the seat.

While DeLay spent more than $2.7 million to get re-elected in 2004, not counting considerable outside resources that went into the effort, this time it would likely cost upwards of $5 million.

Keep in mind, the 22nd District is not DeLay's old rock-ribbed Republican seat. DeLay was a team player in redistricting, and gave up heavily Republican areas, picking up Democratic territory, as a gesture to urge Republican members also to give up friendly territory.

In retrospect, he really could use that old turf. One Washington insider privately noted that it would be ironic if DeLay ended up being the first GOP casualty of his own redistricting plan.

Win or lose, this will be an ugly and costly re-election fight for DeLay -- if he chooses to pursue it.


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Very cool. (Okay, maybe not MTV cool; but definitely TPM cool ...)

Ken Colburn's Techpolitics site has prepared a sortable web page showing Social Security recipient data by county for the congressional districts represented by members of TPM's Conscience Caucus.

More details about TPMCafe.com.

As I noted before I went away on vacation, TPMCafe will host a small number of individual, subject-specific blogs -- one of which will focus on foreign affairs and national security.

This will be a group blog with six contributors.

They are Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ivo Daalder of Brookings, John Ikenberry of Princeton University, James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations, George Packer of The New Yorker and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

(What I've listed here are just brief mentions of each contributor's institutional affiliation. You can find out more about them by clicking on the individual links.)

It's an exciting group of voices, not only because of the qualities each possesses individually, but because of the eclectic mix of perspectives -- as academics, policy practitioners and journalists -- they bring to the conversation.

More to follow ...

Duce! Duce! or Toadies on Parade!

DC conservatives hold tribute dinner to hail fearless (Majority) Leader DeLay, man of steel.

Where is the Chaplin for this dubious Duce, this tin-pot Tweed?

Amazing. When I left a week ago, the Princeton Frist Filibuster site was still a hastily-thrown-together operation, mainly serving up a slow feed of some student filibustering Bill Frist. Now, it's a whole elaborate set-up, with a media archive, lists of upcoming speakers and events, links to filibusters at other campuses -- amazing.

They're even fundraising for something called "phase 2" of their filibuster, though I couldn't seem to figure out from the site what phase two was. Certainly, something quite worthy.

By now Professors Witten and Nappi should have their TPM T-Shirts they won for being the first two profs to get in on the action. Actually, that means that there's still a third T-Shirt waiting for whoever was the third professor to take a stand and filibuster Frist. But I'll let the organizers on the scene determine who that lucky T-Shirt recipient was.

Let me just get started with a note of thanks to my two guest bloggers, Matt Yglesias and Kenny Baer. It was a pleasure leaving the site in both of their hands over the last week.

My wife and I just flew into New York this evening after a week's honeymoon on the Yucatan peninsula. And thanks to all of you for the kind notes, written while I was away, about that.

More soon on several subjects.

(ed.note: Josh Marshall will be back Sunday evening. But he couldn't resist this one post from abroad.)

In the context of Social Security, what exactly is ‘solvency’? And just what are we looking for when we say we want to find it? I pose these questions because the president's new ‘plan' has placed them in a much higher relief for the following reason. According the Social Security Trustees' rather pessimistic estimates, in 2041 or 2042, the Trust Fund will run out and benefits will have to be cut by just over 25%. President Bush calls that ‘bankruptcy’. On the other hand, President Bush's 'plan' cuts benefits by about the same amount. And he calls that ‘solvency’.

Same cuts: one is a looming disaster, the other is an act of statesmanship. Go figure.

Now, there are some details and caveats. The Bush cuts aren't quite as big. He cuts a bit of a break for the working poor while reserving the full brunt of the pain for the middle class. On top of that he includes a private accounts-based phase-out plan and a ton of new borrowing. But then, as even the President's budget wizards now concede, his plan only keeps the program 'solvent' for a few more years. So it's not like it accomplishes much of anything anyway.

Yet none of this changes the essential logic of the Bush plan. And that’s where our attention should focus. If the issue is simply making sure that benefits remain equal to payroll tax revenues, that's easy. Indeed, we've already got that since the way the Social Security system is set up, benefits are automatically cut to the level of revenue coming into Social Security form payroll taxes and the Trust Fund. Just leave the damn thing on auto-pilot and it will remain 'solvent', automatically, from now until the end of time.

All the president has done is take the problem -- steep benefit cuts -- and redefined it as the solution. That’s not a plan or a solution; it’s a word game. And if we're really setting such a feeble standard, there are an infinite number of similarly silly 'plans' folks can cook up.

The point, I think, is that when people worry about 'solvency', their concern is not about something so trivial as a book-keeping entry. Their worry is that people like Social Security as it is today. And they want it to be there for themselves or, depending on their age, their children or grandchildren. Only there's a problem. And that is that in the second half of this century potential funding shortfalls could require cuts that begin to make Social Security into something very different than what it is today and what it was for those in the past.

Now, not every thing we want is possible in this world. And perhaps at some point some level of cuts will be necessary. But, as I said, I think they are what most folks want to avoid rather than being the goal, as seems to be the case for President Bush.

But, if changes become necessary, they are far from the only lever that can be pulled to put things back into balance. We could remove or limit the high-income-earners’ payroll tax exemption, the so-called ‘cap’. We could supplement Social Security with funds from general revenue. We could invest a portion of the Trust Fund in something other than Treasury bonds. We could nudge the retirement age up another year. Perhaps most immediately we could forgo the new round of high-income tax breaks President Bush wants passed – those which would re-pass or make permanent those from his first term. That in itself would go a long way toward solving the whole problem. Various mixes of these possibilities would solve the whole problem. And it is important not to forget that it is not at all clear that the problem will ever even materialize, at least at this scope, given increased productivity and immigration.

The important point is that for President Bush there’s only one solution -- big middle class benefit cuts. (And, of course, on top of that, lots more borrowing and cutting to create that Write House Holy Grail, private accounts.)

For most folks, that’s the problem. For President Bush, it’s the solution.

It’s his goal.

And that shouldn’t surprise you, since phasing out Social Security has always been what the president is after.

As regular readers know, my wife Millet and I were married last month. (It's pronounced Mill-ette. It's a Hebrew name that isn't even a name in Hebrew. Long story. But, as you can imagine, it's one I adore.) And when some readers asked why I had come back online so soon after the big day I explained that we had decided to take our honeymoon in May.

Well, that day is upon us.

We're going to be away, south of the border, for a week. And we're leaving early Sunday morning.

Now, a cynical and untrusting person might say, 'Hey, wait a minute. You spend days raising funds from hundreds of your readers. And the first thing you when you're done is leave the country?'

I admit one can arrange the facts in that way. But I assure you that doing so creates a false impression. Rest assured, I am returning. And TPMCafe is on track for our launch in mid-May.

I'll say a bit more about that in a moment. But first, I want to introduce you to the two guest bloggers who will be minding the store in my absence: Matthew Yglesias and Kenneth Baer.

I'm never up to speed with what all the latest blogs are. But I started reading Matt's blog when he was still in college only two or three years ago. He's a staff writer now at The American Prospect. And he's simply one of the most impressive young journalists in Washington today, in any part of the profession. I'm especially pleased that he's been such a strong and cogent voice on Social Security since we are sure to face a new tide of bamboozlement in the week ahead.

Kenneth Baer has one foot in the world of journalism and another in the world of brass-tacks DC Democratic operative land. He was a speechwriter for Al Gore in 90s. And I find that usually when I bring up this or that Democratic pol in conversation, it ends up that he's either worked for them, worked for someone who was running against them, wrote a speech for them or knows some secret about them that I'm psyched to know but would just assume others didn't. In any case, he knows Democratic DC -- a diminished specimen, admittedly, but still worth knowing more about.

Kenny's guest blogging stint, which will get started Wednesday afternoon, because he's following the British elections (which are next Thursday) extremely closely. So he'll be able to get you up to speed on Wednesday and explain all the ins and outs of it as the results come in Thursday evening.

I'll be back on Sunday.

Let me sign off with a note to contributors. Again, thank you. More than 1500 of you contributed over the previous ten days. You all gave generously. And many of you wrote notes that meant a great deal to me. To say that I was and am humbled would be an understatement. But I must confess that that was not my only or perhaps even my most potent feeling. As I looked over the notes yesterday and the names of various contributors, I had this moment when I imagined all of the various contributors in a crowd or all together in one place. And the thought suddenly came to me: #$@!, I really better make sure this thing doesn't suck!

So, let's hope. But I think you're going to like what we've come up with. We've got a great stable of contributors lined up. Journalists, pols, essayists, political operatives, novelists, policy hands, academics and various people I'm not precisely sure how to categorize. We're also working on new ways for the community of people who read this site to communicate with each other and contribute to the site with their own ideas, insights and observations.

And one other thing. And this again to contributors. In many of your notes you write "to Josh and staff" or something like that. Well, there is no staff. There are various folks without whom I couldn't put this site together -- the guy who helps me with the tech side of the operation, my research assistant and others. But the site has never had a staff -- as in people beside me who have regular paid job working on this site. That, in fact, was the main reason, for the fundraiser, because with the new site in addition to TPM I need to hire a staff of at least one to help me run the whole thing. As of now, though, no staff. Which brings me to my final point. As I said, I'm very appreciative of all your contributions. And I'm responding to each of you individually with a note of thanks or responding to questions you asked. But, honestly, writing 1500+ thank you notes takes a long time. This was actually the only major planning failure of the whole fundraiser. Tomorrow I'm leaving for my honeymoon and I feel confident my marriage will not last long if I spend much of any time working on writing the thank you notes.

All of which is a long way of saying that most of you won't hear from me individually till after I get back. But let me assure you nonetheless that your contributions are greatly appreciated.

I'll be back in a week.

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