Is Harold Ford the Dean of the Fainthearted Faction? Could be. When last we left the Tennessee up-and-comer he was saying nice things about Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) private accounts bill. But little did we know that last year he came awfully close to co-sponsoring the private accounts bill of South Carolina Congressman Jim DeMint.
Here's a Bob Novak column cheering him on. Here's his statement of support for the DeMint plan on the Cato Institute 'Project on Social Security Choice' website. And here's a piece from South Carolina's The State on how he just couldn't quite get himself to sign on the dotted line at the last minute because even though he loved the plan he and DeMint couldn't decide how to pay for it.
Now, it just so happens that Congressman DeMint just got elected to the Senate. So that means that in the new Congress Ford will have the whole South Carolina Senate delegation covered in as much as that he's given the thumbs up to co-sponsoring partial phase-out bills with both of the state's senators.
In any case, a few other points. First, though he is sponsoring a partial Social Security phase-out plan, I will at least give Sen. Graham credit for a level of responsibilty on how to pay for it. He has publicly scolded President Bush's willingness to borrow one or two trillion dollars to finance his Social Security phase-out plan. And he himself has suggested eliminating the caps on payroll taxes (thus incresing the taxes on upper-income workers) to finance the transition.
At the end of the day, he still wants to partially phase-out Social Security and replace it with private accounts. And partial phase-out will lead to total phase-out. But there is some virtue I think in noting cases in which you have fundamental political and philosophical disagreements with someone and yet you can see that they are advocating what you see as bad policies with some measure of honesty and responsibility, in contrast to the likes of President Bush who is doing so with the characteristic recklessness and deception. Graham was also a standout on Abu Ghraib. So, anyway, I just wanted to note these points.
And, though I've noted this several times, I want one more time to make this point about the Fainthearted Faction, and particularly those who got grandfathered in because of their opposition to the Filner Amendment (see this earlier post if you want to know what the hell I'm talking about), because I keep hearing from readers for whom the point doesn't seem clear.
Most of the folks who are now in the Faction are there because of their opposition to the Filner Amendment. That just means that they're the first people to look at (for the reasons described in this post) if we're trying to figure out which congressional Democrats seem most likely to sign on with Bush's plan.
As we noted earlier today, three congressmen who got grandfathered into the Faction because of their opposition to the Filner Amendment have made recent statements which state fairly clear opposition to the Bush plan. Congressmen Boyd and Smith are confirmed members of the Faction for recent actions or statements. And now Harold Ford is not only in the Faction but has actually become the Dean because of his rather lengthy history of openness to phasing out Social Security.
I know this all gets complicated. But bear with me since Social Security really is an important program.
Now, in addition to being the Dean of the Fainthearted Faction, another thing to note about Rep. Ford is that he's a man with big plans --- statewide office, national office, the sky's the limit. He ran against Nancy Pelosi two years ago to be the head of the Democratic caucus when he was only in his third term and thirty-two years old, for crying out loud.
So what I'm wondering is what big funders and groups of Democrats are going to go to Ford and tell him that if he ever wants to get out of his Memphis House district just who does he think it's going to be who's going to fund and staff out his campaign?
And what about those Republicans who might not quite be ready to sign on to President Bush's plan to phase out Social Security? You know, the Conscience Caucus. Florida's Mark Foley told the AP a few days ago that out of the 232 member GOP caucus in the 109th Congress, between 125 to 150 of them might need "a lot of hand-holding" to get them to sign off on ending, or ... okay, okay, partially ending Social Security. And Illinois' Ray LaHood seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
So the Conscience Caucus may include a good seventy, eighty, even a hundred members. And they, after all, are the real issue.
The reason it's so critical to get every Democrat lined up with the right position in favor of Social Security is not simply or even principally because of the significance of their individual votes. After all, if the president can keep all his troops together they don't need any Democratic votes. The point is to raise the stakes, to make the moral responsibility as stark and as clear as possible.
If President Bush is intent on destroying Social Security and replacing it with a private accounts system, let him do it with Republican votes only. Republicans in marginal districts will be far less likely to sign on to his plan if it's an exclusively Republican enterprise, if there are no Democrats along for the ride to muddle the picture and provide illusory bipartisan cover.