Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The RNC brings in the legal eagles to defend the Social Security Speech Code.

As you'll see in this article from the South Bend Tribune, the RNC is sending threatening letters to local television stations requesting they stop running anti-Social Security phase-out ads from Moveon.org.

The ad, as it turns out, is demonstrably accurate.

According to the Tribune, the RNC letter reads:

"The advertisement in question falsely and maliciously makes reference to 'George Bush's planned Social Security benefit cuts of up to 46 percent to pay for private accounts ...' "

In his State of the Union address, the president said that "Social Security will not change in any way" for Americans 55 and older."

The RNC letter said that "what MoveOn.org calls 'Bush's planned Social Security benefit cuts' is actually a plan that would hold starting Social Security benefits steady in purchasing power, rather than allowing them to nearly double over the next 75 years as they are projected to do under the current benefit formula."

(Note that the phrase "falsely and maliciously" has a <$Ad$> clear legal import in this case and sends a clear message.)

The reference to benefit cuts of up to 46 percent is a reference to the president's widely-reported intention of shifting from wage-indexing to inflation-indexing for future benefits. This is true.

Indeed, their response concedes the truth of Moveon's ad, as long as you know how to decode their rhetorical flimflam.

As you see, they seek to refute Moveon's claim by noting the president's claim that people over 55 will not be affected. Setting aside the highly-debatable point about whether even that is true, the RNC no doubt realizes that there are people under 55 -- in fact, quite a few of them.

The next 'refutation' is even more clear. They say that the president's plan "is actually a plan that would hold starting Social Security benefits steady in purchasing power, rather than allowing them to nearly double over the next 75 years as they are projected to do under the current benefit formula."

I mean, how friggin' obvious does this have to be?

Once again this is a reference to inflation rather than wage indexing of benefits. The RNC's argument seems to amount to the proposition that benefit cuts for which they believe there is an argument are simply not cuts.

All those fencing-sitting Republicans say that we need to have a full debate about Social Security. So why is the RNC trying to use the courts to muzzle any honest discussion of the president's plan?

Late Update: The secret RNC-FactCheck.org axis? Or is someone just an easy mark? We've been sitting for a while on a post about the atrociously bad fact-checking on Social Security being done by FactCheck.org, especially one they did on the Moveon ad. Notwithstanding the fact that the RNC says that President Bush has a "plan that would hold starting Social Security benefits steady in purchasing power, rather than allowing them to nearly double over the next 75 years as they are projected to do under the current benefit formula," I think we've argued pretty persuasively above that this point is bogus. The RNC can use this tortured verbiage if they like. But they can hardly claim that Moveon is lying when they call this a cut since the Social Security Administration itself calls it a cut. And look at how Factcheck.org described the president's plan back on the 1st of the month. They called it a "plan that would hold starting Social Security benefits steady in purchasing power, rather than allowing them to nearly double over the next 75 years as they are projected to do under the current benefit formula." Who's cribbing who here?

A reader chimes in with the following question ...

Dear Josh,

Over the years, David Broder has regarded himself as the voice of fiscal responsibility. Yet he also has expressed openness to SS privatization from time to time. Now that we know Bush's plan will require upwards of $4.5 trillion in new federal borrowing over 20 years, what sayeth Lord David? He has been mysteriously silent on the subject of privatization.

We're curious too.

Part of a larger story about Washington's journalistic establishment and conventional wisdom, or the wages of Russertism ...

Ask Fred Hiatt. He may have something to add.

We've mentioned this before and certainly we're not the only ones. But it bears watching and repeating.

It is not just that Social Security phase-out is proving unpopular in some states where President Bush is popular. It's turning out to be most unpopular in some of the reddest parts of the country. Alabama is a good example. Montana is another. Or Rep. Virgil Goode (R) in Southside Virginia. And they're not the only ones.

This isn't particularly surprising when you think about it. These are areas are often older, more rural and have more voters with lower incomes. These are states where President Bush has campaigned on a pseudo-populism which is belied by his own economic policies.

Phase-out is bringing the contradiction to the surface.

TPM reader DD makes a good point.

In Jonathan Weisman's Friday piece in the Post on Social Security he has this passage ...

White House officials responded that even if the accounts produced no more benefit than the traditional system, they would still be valuable.

"Even if I break even, we would argue I'm still better off because I own the money," a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "If I die, it belongs to my estate. If I divorce, it's a marital asset. And it's protected from political risk. Government can't take it away."

If it's a 'marital asset', you really do own it. So what if you go bankrupt? What happens then?

Eyes wide open ...

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says getting rid of public pension plans for California's state and local government workers is about helping to balance the budget. Peel back the budget wrapping on his plan, though, and you will find the governor's real agenda: the California prong of a national attack on the pension funds that have stood up for corporate reform and the interests of ordinary families and investors hurt by the recent wave of corporate scandal. The governor has proposed privatizing government pension plans and replacing them with individual 401(k)-style private accounts. His proposal strikes at the power of public pension funds, which have used their financial clout to protect the retirement savings of 2 million Californians — teachers, police officers and other public servants."

That's from Phil Angelides, Treasurer of the state of California, in his opinion column in this morning's LA Times.

Strictly house keeping.

This new article in Newsweek contains a brief reference to TPM as a blog covering the Social Security debate.

But down at the bottom of the page, in a box entitled "Sponsored Links" there is this 'sponsored link' ... "Social Security Reform Reform or marketing hoax? Get the facts. TalkingPointsMemo.com"

Click on the link and it takes you to this post.

Given that it's a Google link, it's probably appearing elsewhere too.

Now, in the four years TPM has been around, there are many worse problems we've had to deal with than free paid publicity. But TPM does no paid advertising ever. We didn't pay for this. And we don't know who did. It was only random chance that I even noticed it.

It's certainly no federal case. And the logic of it suggests it was paid for by someone or some organization who agrees with our position and wants to spread the word. We'll be contacting Google to find out who. But we thought it was important to set the record straight.

We don't run ads for TPM or our work on Social Security. Whoever is is not connected with us in any way.

Knock, knock, knock ...

From the Lawrence Journal-World: "Count U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, of Hays, as a Republican who opposes President Bush's proposal to divert Social Security revenues into private investment accounts. 'I dislike the connection of those accounts with the Social Security system,' Moran said during a visit to the state Capitol. Moran said he feared the transition costs of diverting money from Social Security would add to the deficit and that taxpayers who didn't do well with their investments would eventually seek help from Congress."

First in a series of great Fred Hiatt moments. This from Monday's column ...

"On domestic affairs the Democrats find themselves in a similar box. Since for the most part they cheerfully drank Bush's tax-cut Kool-Aid in 2001, you may not have much sympathy for their quandary."

Number of House Democrats who voted for the president's 2001 tax cut: 28. Number of senators: 12.

I'm actually a little surprised Vice President Cheney said this. But if he wants to be upfront about the folly of his administration's proposal, who am I to complain?

This from Fox ...

"We're going to borrow $758 [b]illion over the next 10 years to set up the personal retirement accounts. We think that's a manageable amount ... Trillions more after that," Cheney said, acknowledging that the personal accounts will help younger workers but will not solve all the problems of solvency.

As the Fox interviewer, Chris Wallace, made clear in the interview, the $758 billion number is itself the product of a little numerical flimflam. As Wallace says at one point in the conversation, "Isn't that misleading? Because under <$Ad$> your plan, the accounts, the program wouldn't actually start til 2009. So, if you take the first full 10 years, when people can actually invest in the program, the cost is over $1 trillion, and for the following 10 years, it's $3.5 trillion. Isn't it a lot more expensive?"

In fact, I think it's considerably worse than Wallace says. But let's leave that aside and assume it was only what Cheney says.

As we've noted repeatedly here, the biggest threat to Social Security is our accumulated national debt -- actually, even more our accumulating national debt. If we only had the debt load we have now and weren't adding hundreds of billions of dollars every year because of the president's policies, we could probably grow our way out of it.

In any case, indebtedness is our problem. And Cheney's solution is to borrow many trillions more dollars over the next two or three decades, in addition to our existing structural budget deficits which are likely themselves unsustainable. And he and the White House now admit this will do nothing to improve the financial condition of Social Security.

Following any reasonable calculation the entire debate should end right there -- though I concede that rational calculation ain't what it used to be.

Look what we hear from the administration's own collective mouth. Their solution to the problem does nothing to solve the problem -- not me saying it, them saying it. However, it does cost trillions of dollars. In fact, it will cost -- by their own estimation -- much more over the next 20 years than it would to keep Social Security going strong for the next 75 years.

At what point does this proposed policy collapse under the weight of its own ridiculousness?

Bloomberg: "McCain, who said he supports the idea 'in principle,' said, 'there's a number of members of the Senate and House who are not happy about President Bush coming to a neighborhood near them.'"