Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Rep. Howard Coble (R) of North Carolina sidling up to the Conscience <$NoAd$> Caucus?

From the News & Observer ...

"This is going to be a very tough lift for all of us," said Coble, the longest-serving member of North Carolina's congressional delegation.

Coble has been battling the perception that Republicans would dismantle Social Security since he first ran for Congress 20 years ago.

He cut an ad during that campaign, with his aging parents sitting on a front porch, saying Coble would never hurt Social Security.

"My mama said, 'If he does, I'll take a switch to him,' " Coble said in an interview.

Coble's mother is now 95, and she still would, Coble said.

Coble said he favors fine-tuning rather than overhauling. He finds personal savings accounts "not to be offensive," although he said it's too soon to stake out a position on a plan that has not been presented.

"It's a long way between here and where we tie this ship to the dock," he said.

With such a flood of new members, the Caucus has tightened its eligibility requirements. But Rep. Coble seems like he might want in.

Someone check back with Coble on Friday and see whether Howard's gonna have to take a whoopin' for ole' George W.

Occasionally the import of a tongue-in-cheek post doesn't sink in satisfactorily. So lest there be any confusion, when President Bush hits the road on his pro-phase-out barnstorming tour later this week, defenders of Social Security should make it exceedingly clear that in states like Montana, where the president is allegedly trying to muscle Democrats into supporting his bill, he still hasn't gotten the key Republicans to sign on. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in Montana is but one example.

In a state like Florida, it is also an opportunity to get all those zipped-lip Republican reps from Florida to tell their constituents whether they support the Bush plan or not.

We were scratching our heads <$Ad$>trying to understand it. Why is President Bush heading out to Montana after his State of the Union address when Sen. Baucus (D) just couldn't make it any clearer that he's not going to vote for a Social Security phase-out bill?

We tossed around a bunch of possible explanations before suddenly the mysterious hidden truth revealed itself: Baucus is just a cover. President Bush is really going to Montana to muscle the state's sole member of the House of Representatives: Rep. Denny Rehberg (R).

Sure, he may have flown under the radar until now. But when asked about the president's phase-out plan back in mid-November, here's what he told the Great Falls Tribune ...

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana's sole House member and a Republican, says he's a long way from feeling comfortable about "privatizing" or allowing "personal accounts" with Social Security funds, as suggested by the president.

"I haven't seen anything I can support yet," he says.

Not only is Rehberg suggesting he won't vote for phase-out, he's even using the demeaning 'privatizing' buzzword that even most national political reporters aren't allowed to use anymore. That's insubordination this president won't stand.

And along these lines, what about the other states the president is hitting on the campaign trail? I would hate to think that any responsible journalist would cover the president's swing through Florida without finding out whether he's able to get Conscience Caucus members Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R) or Rep. Katherine Harris (R) to sign on.

And what about Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) out in Nebraska? He's been awful silent.

I mean, c'mon. The real question here is whether the president can get members of his own party on board.

Mike Allen has a nice piece in tomorrow's Post about the congressional Republican retreat in West Virginia and their plan to come out hard in favor of the president's phase-out plan. Tomorrow we'll be talking more about what to expect this coming week. But one of the big things is a wave of confident talk about the likelihood of getting a phase-out bill passed this year. Allen's article contains a lot of that in quotes from congressional Republicans.

And then there's this choice graf ...

The congressional Republicans' confidential plan was developed with the advice of pollsters, marketing experts and communication consultants, and was provided to The Washington Post by a Republican official. The blueprint urges lawmakers to promote the "personalization" of Social Security, suggesting ownership and control, rather than "privatization," which "connotes the total corporate takeover of Social Security." Democratic strategists said they intend to continue fighting the Republican plan by branding it privatization, and assert that depiction is already set in people's minds.

So now it's 'personalization' of Social Security. <$Ad$>It's really hard to find out where the reality ends and the parody starts on this, isn't it?

In any case, I think Allen -- who's been a standout on highlighting the White House's rhetorical flimflam on 'privatization' -- lets us down when he says that the Democrats are going to fight back "by branding [the president's policy] privatization."

How can you brand it with something that is already the established term for it? The term proponents of privatization themselves always chose? It's like branding me 'Josh'.

Here I think even the praiseworthy Allen has stumbled into the always-treacherous minefield of false equivalence, suggesting that both sides are trying to 'brand' the policy with the term most advantageous to their side.

That really doesn't cut it.

Yes, 'privatization' is clearly the term Democrats prefer over the truly moronic 'personalization'. But there is a certain matter of 'is' here. As in, that is the term for it.

'Privatization' is both descriptively appropriate for the policy in question and it has been the accepted term embraced by both sides of the debate for roughly a quarter century.

Both sides may have political motives, but Democrats are resisting Republican efforts to enforce a new Social Security speech code, which the latter are trying to impose because their policy is losing public support. To equate the two distorts what is actually happening.

It's almost like the end of an era: Rep. Harold Ford (D) of Tennessee, former Dean of the Fainthearted Faction, now out of the Fainthearted Faction.

Yes, I'm still trying to get my head around it too ...

On Saturday I discussed the Stolberg piece in the Sunday Times and particularly the passage in which she wrote that Ford is only in favor of add-on accounts, not private accounts carved out of Social Security.

That is a significantly broader statement than the one he released a month ago.

In that statement, he was quite clear that he opposed the Bush plan and that proposed by the Cato Institute. But the wording suggested his opposition was based largely on the price tag (i.e., transition costs) rather than concept of privatization itself. "If she's got the nuance of what he told her right," I wrote, "that's a lot more than he's been willing to say to date."

But it turns out that the normally all-knowing TPM research department let me down on this one, Ford has already said this -- and in an article in which TPM is quoted extensively.

The article comes in a recent edition of The Memphis Flyer.

We've edited the passage down with ellipses to focus in on the key points ...

And Ford in his telephone interview was explicit on the point, denying that he does now, or ever did, advocate tapping payroll taxes to create the accounts ... He maintains that he has been misunderstood. "The only kind of Social Security accounts I've ever advocated was the same thing that Bill Clinton and Al Gore talked about. It's what Gore called 'Social Security Plus' in 2000 and what Clinton called 'universal savings accounts.'" ... And the congressman was quite explicit this week about disavowing not only President Bush's Social Security reform proposals but the concept underlying it. "I have not signed on to any legislation, since I have been in Congress to take money from Social Security to create private accounts. I do not favor privatizing Social Security. I am opposed to President Bush's attempt to do so. Categorically," he said. "The president's plan to privatize Social Security will not accomplish what he says he wants to accomplish. It will add too much debt and it will offset any gains that people would make from their accounts because interest rates would skyrocket and benefits would be reduced and the program would run out of money." ... Ford insists that his own proposals for investment accounts would involve general revenues, not those of the Social Security fund, and could be achieved through progressive tax legislation, overturning the effects of the Bush tax cuts of the last several years.

So there you have it. Rep. Harold Ford (D) of Tennessee, fainthearted no more.

See the newly-updated Faction list here.

I was away for the weekend and had only occasional web access. So I was happy to see when I got in this evening that there was an inevitable follow-up to Friday evening's post about Sen. Evan Bayh's (D) appearance on the Stephanopoulos show. We asked, you'll remember, whether George would pop the question that would get Sen. Bayh out of the Fainthearted Faction.

And, as it turns out, Stephanopoulos is something of a master at the highly-specialized art of Faction extraction. He put the question to Bayh in terms he couldn't duck or talk around. And to Bayh's great credit, he didn't even try. George got not only a clear answer, but a good one.

Here's the relevant passage ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Let's turn, then, to the president's agenda. In his State of the Union address Wednesday, of course the focus is going to be Iraq and Social Security reform.

And a lot of Democrats are wondering where you stand on Social Security reform. You've supported President Bush on his tax cuts. Let me ask you about these Social Security reform proposals, and there are three answers that could be: yes and no (ph).

Number one, would you support diverting the payroll tax into individual accounts?

BAYH: No, I would not, George.

And, look, the president is probably going to talk a lot about ownership and individual choice. I think those are great concepts, and I can support those -- but in addition to the current Social Security system, not as a replacement for it.

Look, you may own your home; a lot of Americans do. I bet you have insurance. Ownership and insurance have to go hand in hand.

Social Security is the insurance. Senior citizens in our country can always rely on it to make sure they're not desperately poor in their old age.

Should we have ownership and choice in addition to that? Yes, we should. But we should never do anything to undermine that insurance. That is one of the bedrock principles of our country.

There was some further discussion of Social Security between the two men. One point Bayh raised was the possibility of a form of 'means testing' at the very high-end of the income scale, though it was framed around the question of whether benefits are indexed to wages or inflation. In any case, the whole exchange pointed clearly to the fact that Bayh just handed in his membership card in the Fainthearted Faction.

See the new updated Faction list here.

As so often is the case out of Iraq, some the best reporting on the Iraqi elections comes from Anthony Shadid in The Washington Post.

Good news has been hard to come by in Iraq for some time. So this unexpectedly high turn-out, relatively low level of violence, and what seems to have been a swelling tide of enthusiasm over the course of the day, is something more than very welcome news. It may also provide some indication or clue to explaining those polls which show, on the one hand, deep-seated Iraqi disenchantment with the US occupation, outrage over the persistent violence that afflicts the country, and yet also an underlying optimism about the future.

Disasters aren't turned around in a day; but this was a good day. Nobody should be surprised that people show up in large numbers in a country where elections have never or only seldom happened; that happens all the time. But I'm not sure I can think of a similar instance when voting has occurred amidst such immediate and credible threats of violence.

The issue now is providing basic security throughout the country and building democratic institutions that will last -- the latter depending on the former.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a nice piece in tomorrow's Times about how central the Social Security debate has become for Dems.

In the portion discussing potential waverers, she writes...

One such Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, has taken a tentative step toward working across party lines, by attending a private meeting with Republicans, led by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to talk about Social Security. But Mr. Graham's idea, to increase Social Security taxes as a way of financing the transition to private accounts, is not in favor at the White House.

Another Democrat from a heavily Republican state, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, joined Republicans to help pass Mr. Bush's tax cuts and prescription drug coverage for the elderly. But Mr. Baucus, who as the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is the party's point man on Social Security, says he will not join the president in the current fight.

Across the Capitol in the House, Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., Democrat of Tennessee, has in the past embraced the concept of private accounts. But Mr. Ford, who intends to seek the Senate seat being vacated in 2006 by the Republican leader, Bill Frist, also opposes Mr. Bush's plan.

"The math isn't right," Mr. Ford said, adding that while he liked "the idea of building wealth," he did not favor using private accounts to replace any of the guaranteed Social Security benefit.

A couple points.

First, the<$Ad$>mention of Sen. Nelson (D) of Nebraska seems incomplete without noting that he has now explicitly come out in favor of add-on accounts rather than carved-out accounts favored by President Bush and even more emphatically against changing benefits to tie them to inflation rather than wages.

Not enough to get him out of the Faction yet. But a pretty big deal.

Then there's Rep. Harold Ford,Jr. (D) of Tennessee, former Dean of the Fainthearted Faction. Ford put out a statement last month saying he did not back the president's bill or approach. But he still seemed to leave the door open to privatization, perhaps when the country's fiscal house was in better order.

No more, it seems.

Stolberg doesn't use an exact quote. But she paraphrases him saying no private accounts to replace "any of the guaranteed Social Security benefit."

If she's got the nuance of what he told her right, that's a lot more than he's been willing to say to date (maybe it's that senate announcement coming up late next month?). If he said that himself, he'd be out of the Faction entirely.

Sen. Evan Bayh goes on the Stephanopoulos show on ABC this Sunday.

Will George pop the question that ushers Bayh out of the Fainthearted Faction? Or will Bayh let Sen. Ben Nelson beat him to the door?

He's on the show to talk about voting 'no' on Condi. So you can bet the presidency is on his mind.