Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Things heat up in Florida 5.

As noted previously, Florida's 5th Congressional District, represented by second-term Republican Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite,has more Social Security recipients than any other in the country. In fact, it's not even close. Her district has 250,771, while the next runner-up, Florida 19, has 184,624.

Given those numbers and the fact that she won with only 48% of the vote in 2002, places her high on the target list for both Democrats and groups supporting Social Security.

Yesterday people started getting calls in her district, which according to the St. Petersburg Times, said: "I am calling to alert you that your congresswoman, Ginny Brown-Waite, supports privatizing Social Security. This plan would cost taxpayers $2-trillion dollars. It would also decrease future benefits to retirees by 47 percent. The Social Security trust fund should be in a lock box, not a Wall Street slot machine. Tell Congresswoman Waite that we want real Social Security reform, not a risky Wall Street gamble ..."

Brown-Waite says this is a "lie".

"I'm against privatization. I'm against cutting benefits to retirees," she told the Times. Then, she added, "We do have to look at the long term fiscal stability of Social Security."

In other words, Brown-Waite is relying on the misleading dodge that phasing-out a portion of Social Security and replacing it with private accounts does not equal "privatization". So what she's doing is far closer to 'lying' than anything in the recorded telephone message.

Indeed, while the language is pointed, it's not clear to me that there's anything even misleading about the call. Brown-Waite told the Miami Herald that the numbers were pulled "out of thin air." But that's hardly true. $2 trillion in transition fees is a consensus estimate which even understates the costs since it covers only the first decade after the beginning of the phase-out.

So this is a factual ad (or recorded message) and it clearly scares the hell out of Brown-Waite. And it's got her attention. She told the Herald that now she hasn't made up her mind yet about private accounts: "I'm damn independent, and I plan on continuing to be that way. If we do anything this year that's not going to benefit the majority of the people in my district, I'm not going to vote for it. I want to be able to go home."

The Times and the Herald both also report that the calls showed up in Rep. Bill Young's 10th district. Says the Times: "Longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, who also does not support privatization, has been the subject of similar calls, according to his spokesman, Harry Glenn."

Glenn says Young doesn't support 'privatization'. And the Times takes and repeats the claim at face-value. But, of course, Young's guy is just scamming constituents too, since he does support private accounts. His point of high principle is just not calling it 'privatization'.

Late Update: We're told that this morning Brown-Waite has her own phone messages running in the district trying to push back against the initial run criticizing her support of privatization. The message, I'm told, doesn't touch 'privatization' or 'private' accounts but only hits the 'no cuts for current or near-retirees' line.

President Bush feeling his own power: "I fully understand the power of those who want to derail a Social Security agenda by, you know, scaring people."

Whatever you do today do not miss the front page piece in the Times on Chile's disastrous experience with privatization. The case for the program is so strong it seems that José Piñera, the labor and social security minister under Pinochet, who ushered in the program, refused to even discuss it with the Times.

That despite the fact that he's had a sinecure at Cato for years as their big phase-out macher. He's the Co-Chair of their Project on Social Security Privatization Choice.

Perhaps the most telling line in the whole piece: "Among other achievements emphasized here by advocates of the privatized funds are the creation of a modern capital market, cheaper credit for companies that formerly could turn only to banks when they wanted to expand, and a brake on deficit spending by the government."

And which of those things has anything to do with retirement security exactly?

An excellent piece of reporting from CJR Daily: Thomas Lang looked at AP reporter David Espo's use of the phrases "private accounts" and "personal accounts" and shows clearly that Espo has shifted from the former to the latter, with the pivot coming early last month, just as the White House was ramping up their phase-out campaign.

When asked, "Espo told CJR Daily he was unaware of the adjustment in his own choice of terminology, and said that 'on balance' he identifies the savings accounts as 'personal accounts.'"

In other words, the White House and its allies have been able to change the language Espo uses to describe privatization without his even being aware of it.

The Boston Globe profiles and reports on the couple featured in the now banned episode of 'Postcards from Buster'. "It makes me sick," Karen Pike, a 42-year-old photographer from Vermont tells the Globe, "I'm actually aghast at the hatred stemming from such an important person in our government. . . . Her first official act was to denounce my family, and to denounce PBS for putting on a program that shows my family as loving, moral, and committed."

The bamboozlepalooza begins!

From the Boston Globe: "President Bush, facing a chilly reception on Capitol Hill on his plan to overhaul Social Security, said yesterday he would take his case directly to the American people, crisscrossing the nation to galvanize support for partially privatizing the 70-year-old federal retirement system."


Sen. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota a stealth member of the <$NoAd$>Fainthearted Faction?

'Fraid so. Or at least he's signed up on a stand-by basis.

Just off the Bloomberg wire ...

Senator Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said he told Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolton that the Social Security discussion needed to be expanded to include Medicare funding problems and a tax-code overhaul.

Conrad, who said he didn't listen to Bush's comments, praised Thomas for suggesting alternatives to using the payroll tax to fund Social Security. ``There's been an over-reliance on payroll taxes,'' he said.

Conrad is part of a bipartisan group led by Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, that is trying to develop fixes to the Social Security system.

And the Associated Press picks up from there ...

Conrad said Wednesday that he has already being heavily lobbied: Treasury Secretary John Snow phoned to talk Social Security; the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Josh Bolten, came to visit; and breakfast is scheduled next week with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

"If this is just one of those things where the president says, It's my way or the highway ... I can't be for that," Conrad said. But he added: "I think there is a kernel of a good idea in creating accounts that individuals can control."

He said he wants Social Security addressed along with tax reform, long-term care and the solvency of Medicare -- big issues in their own right -- and he said he opposes borrowing large sums to pay for the private accounts, which many think will be necessary.

The backstory here, of course, is the four-state campaign swing President Bush is planning right after the State of the Union, to two states represented by senators from the Fainthearted Faction (Arkansas and North Dakota) and two (Florida and Montana) with senators who have been holding firm.

More soon ...

NYT, down for the count.

First line of David Rosenbaum's piece on the Bush phase-out plan from Thursday's paper: "If individual investment accounts become an integral part of Social Security, as President Bush is proposing, what will happen to workers who become disabled before they retire?"

At this point I guess you can't blame the individual reporters, some of whose reporting is superb. It's just that the editors seem to have given the stylebook to Rove and Luntz for a scrub, or done it themselves on R&L's behalf.