Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

John Tierney, the Times new conservative columnist, has another column on Social Security today jumping on to the president's new bandwagon. His premise is that Democrats are "aghast" at the president's 'new' Social Security proposal because he "has finally called their bluff." He's proposing a way to make big cuts in Social Security while still protecting the poor. And as Tierney goes on to explain, this has given the lie to the established arguments for Social Security, which Democrats commonly make.

Tierney's piece is woven through with various misleading arguments, which you'll probably be able to catch when you read it. But look more globally at the argument that he, taking the president's lead, is now embracing.

The privatizers have spent almost six months arguing that Social Security is bad as an investment plan because it doesn't have a high enough rate of return. Now they have taken to arguing that it is bad as a welfare program because it gives too much to those who aren't poor.

Social Security is also, I'm willing to concede, an abysmal hair dryer. But the point isn't relevant.

And here we have the essence of the matter. In their effort to phase out Social Security, privatizers continually try to evaluate it in terms of something that it is not. Tierney reveals his own assumptions and prejudices by claiming that Social Security is simply a poorly designed old age welfare program that unwisely provides benefits for middle class people too.

Social Security is neither a poorly designed welfare program nor an investment plan with a poor rate of return. And the privatizers are losing this national debate because Americans, overwhelmingly, understand that.

Social Security is a defined-benefit Social Insurance program that provides a baseline level of retirement security for everyone. Middle class people pay into the program during their working lives and they get benefits back when they retire.

That is not a flaw in the design. That is the design.

By a decisive margin, Americans understand that system and they approve of it. Yet it is a system that offends the sensibilities of privatizers like Tierney.

So their attempts to bamboozle continue apace.

9/11 really does change everything.

Here's Sen. Wayne Allard (R) of Colorado justifying Republican use of the nuclear option in a letter now being sent to his constituents ...

In light of recent terrorist attacks, it is readily apparent that we face a new age of global unrest, a world in which terror has replaced formal declarations of war as the major threat against freedom and democracy. A necessary component of providing justice to those who would do harm to our nation is to maintain an efficient court system - a court equipped with the personnel and resources that enable it to fulfill its role as a pillar of our constitutional system of governance.

The current filibusters of President Bush's Circuit Court nominees clearly demonstrates an active effort by a minority of Senators to block the confirmation of well-qualified judicial nominees. I firmly believe that these tactics have damaged the judicial nomination process to an unacceptable degree, and now it must be corrected. It is shameful that the action of a handful of Senators has created a vacancy crisis that threatens the service of the very justice upon which our great nation depends.

Without the nuclear option, the terrorists will <$NoAd$> have won.


Okay, we're done. Our TPMCafe Fundraiser went from the morning of April 20th through the evening of the 29th. And over those ten days 1522 TPM Readers contributed online. A few dozen more did so by mail. Needless to say, if you didn't get a chance and would still like to contribute, we will not turn you away. As it always is, the 'contribute' link is down there on the left sidebar beneath the ads. But for now no more harping or pitches in the posts. The Fundraiser has been a great success. I cannot thank you enough. More tomorrow on TPMCafe and what's coming next week.

As of 5:11 PM this evening we have 1373 contributors to our TPMCafe Fundraiser (here's a brief description of what TPMCafe will include).

We've got a bit more than six hours remaining. And given that it's Friday evening, the pace of contributions seems certain to slow. But we're holding out for 1400 contributors before we finish up at midnight.

As noted earlier, with all our chattering about our TPMCafe Fundraiser we want to bring you some news today about what we'll be including in the initial launch of TPMCafe.com.

One of the features of the site we're most excited about is a group blog focusing on foreign affairs and national security.

This is a subject that I haven't written about recently as much as I have in the past. But, as you know, it's one that interests me greatly. And this group blog will provide an informed and lively discussion of national security issues both as events develop in the news day to day, but also taking a broader view, thinking about the challenges that face the United States in the years and decades to come, and how to meet them.

The blog will have about half a dozen contributors who mix backgrounds in government work on the National Security Council, international relations and journalism. We're still finalizing the list. But two of the contributors we're ready to announce are Ivo Daalder of Brookings and Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University.

Ivo served as director for European Affairs ('95-'96) on President Clinton's National Security Council staff, where he was responsible for coordinating U.S. policy toward Bosnia. And from 1998-2001, he served as a member of the Study Group of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (i.e., the Hart-Rudman Commission).

To find out more about Daalder's work you can read the Foreign Affairs review I wrote last year of the book he recently wrote with James Lindsay, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy.

Slaughter is the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs and an expert in international relations and international law. Her most recent book is A New World Order. And, no, I didn't review that one. But, hey, I can only write so much.

Needless to say, we couldn't be happier that such impressive folks have signed on.

We'll be bringing you more on other contributors to the new site shortly ...