Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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An update on the Democrats' 'Fainthearted Faction', those who voted against the Filner Amendment in 2001, which was widely seen as a proxy vote for support or opposition to replacing Social Security with private investment accounts.

A couple weeks ago, Rep. Tom Allen of Maine released a statement in which he said, inter alia, that "The proposed Social Security privatization will sink the nation further into the ocean of red ink that has already resulted from this President’s failed budget and tax policies. No amount of media ‘spin’ can disguise the brutal fiscal reality that this plan is a double-edged sword that wreaks deficit havoc on one side and Social Security chaos on the other."

Congressman Adam Schiff of California has released a statement in which he says: "The privatization of Social Security would be detrimental to the guarantee of a secure future for all of our seniors and our national economy. I have serious reservations about tying the Social Security funds into the stock market. Such accounts would expose participants to excessive market risk for an income source that has become so essential to many of the nation's elderly. Our nation has a three-tiered retirement system -- consisting of Social Security, private pensions, and personal investments. While we may want to undertake some "risk" in the latter two tiers, Social Security -- as the tier that provides a basic floor of protection -- should be more stable. It is true that steps need to be taken to strengthen the Social Security Trust Fund. First and foremost, we must continue to pay down the national debt to ensure that that the Trust Fund remains intact. However, the Administration's privatization proposal is estimated to require borrowing at least $1 trillion, which would be a fiscally irresponsible decision. Instead, to protect the Trust Fund, we must prohibit the transfer of any funds to cover future tax cuts or new spending programs."

Staffers for congressman Dennis Moore of Kansas have been telling TPM constituent-readers who've called his office in no uncertain terms that he opposes replacing all or part of Social Security with private accounts and we received a letter from him today in which he writes that "In the 109th Congress, we will attempt to address the challenges facing Social Security, but I cannot stress enough the importance of strengthening the current system instead of dismantling it. As such, I am opposed to any efforts to privatize the current Social Security system." He also notes his support for taking Social Security "off-budget" thus preventing the use of the Social Security surpluses to mask general revenue deficits. Finally, he says -- in reference to the Filner Amendment -- that "while I applaud the Commission for helping to initiate a debate on how best to improve the Social Security system, let me assure you that I will continue to oppose any plan that would jeopardize the benefits of hardworking Americans through investment in individual accounts."

Finally, Congressman Adam Smith of Washington, from what we can glean from TPM constituent-readers who've contacted his office and this article he wrote on December 17th, is very much keeping his options open on private accounts.

So, that all means that we're striking Reps. Allen, Moore and Schiff from the Fainthearted Faction and leaving Congressman Smith definitely in.

That takes the number of members of the Fainthearted Faction down to ten. But we also have a new member joinging the Faction, Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee, who brings the number back to eleven. We're adding Rep. Ford to the list because of an exchange a reader sent us between Rep. Ford and Mort Kondracke at a panel meeting on capitol hill last March sponsored by Centrists.Org, The Concord Coalition, The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget at the New America Foundation, and The Alliance for Worker Retirement Security.

When Kondracke asked Ford whether he could support Sen. Lindsey Graham's private accounts bill (Graham was the other member of Congress on the panel), Ford responded ...

Yes, I would, provided we could pay for the transition costs without running up bigger deficits. I’m not an expert on all the details, but I think his bill has good anti-poverty protections, and matching funds for lower-income workers. The personal accounts are progressive, which is good. And in the long run, it keeps Social Security costs down to about where they are now, which we can afford. In this budget environment, however, it will be very hard to pay for the transition costs of the accounts.

MORT KONDRACKE. Is there a caucus for entitlement reform among Democrats in the House? Realistically, how many House Democrats do you think would be interested in discussing Social Security reform and personal accounts?

REPRESENTATIVE FORD. I think there is a group who would be willing to work constructively. Maybe 50 or 60 members. Certainly, Charlie Stenholm has been an extraordinary leader on this. Charlie has been explaining this issue to voters for many years, and he is a very influential leader on budgets and entitlements.

So Congressman Ford enters the Faction. And that leaves us with the following updated list for the Fainthearted Faction ...

Tom Allen
Marion Berry
Allen Boyd
Robert "Bud" Cramer
Harold Ford
Ron Kind
Dennis Moore
James Moran
Collin Peterson
Adam Schiff
Ike Skelton
Adam Smith
John Tanner
Gene Taylor

More soon on our Social Security 'where do they stand' database.

[ed.note: Thanks to TPM reader JH for the tip on Rep. Ford. The linked post contains more details on Ford.]

This article "special to The Washington Post" discusses a supposed rise in the incidence of vandalism of Nativity scenes and other Christmas displays and ponders whether it is the result of an alleged rise in "Christian-bashing."

As nearly as I can tell, however, the only evidence of a rise noted in the piece comes from William Donohue, an extremist and a gamer, who is the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and who we last saw complaining that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular."

Giuliani-Kerik LLC to be renamed Giuliani Security & Safety. Kerik "to take some time off to focus on my family."

In this post Kevin Drum wades into the online debate about why new poll numbers out yesterday show public approval of the Iraq war down substantial since election day. He notes that fellow blogger David Adesnik reacted in puzzlement to these new numbers ...

I have to admit I'm somewhat puzzled by the numbers. Why were the American public so much more confident [in] Bush on election day? The media have generally presented the post-election battle in Fallujah as victory for our side....Steve Sturm's take on all of this is that America supported the first Iraq war (to get rid of Saddam's WMDs) but not the second (to promote democracy in Iraq).

Kevin's answer, which I think is certainly correct, <$Ad$>is that there's no real mystery. With a few bumps and wiggles along the way, public support both the conduct of the war and the very idea of going to war has basically been heading south from the day the war ended. "Conservatives seem to think that Americans like wars.," writes Kevin, "They don't. They like winning wars. As it becomes ever clearer that Bush doesn't have a winning strategy in Iraq, support continues to drop. It's pretty easy to understand."

But I have another explanation, one that I think is complementary to Kevin's, but adds something to it.

During the election, I always thought that the dynamics of the campaign were providing what we might call an artificial floor for support for the war -- both at the level of its management and the whole idea of going to war in the first place.

Here's what I mean -- it comes down to an issue of cognitive dissonance.

The dead-even political polarization of America remains the defining fact of our politics. Close to 50% of Americans were dead set on voting for President Bush almost no matter what. Or they were dead set on voting against John Kerry. For our purposes, it's the same difference.

I think that many Bush supporters simply couldn't take stock of the full measure of the screw-up in Iraq during the election because doing so would have conflicted their support for President Bush. Iraq and the war on terror so defined this election that support for the war and the president who led us into it simply couldn't be pried apart.

Perhaps it wasn't so internalized. During the slugfest of the campaign supporting Bush just meant supporting the war and this is what people told pollsters when they were asked, because one question was almost a proxy for the other.

You can even do a thought experiment by imagining how many conservatives during election season would have been so staunch in their support for the war if it were being fought under a President Gore or a President Clinton. The question all but answers itself.

In any case, I think what has happened is that the end of the campaign season has departisanized the war -- at least to a measurable extent -- and folks who were emotionally and intellectually committed to reelecting the president (just as there were people on the other side with similar commitments) are now freer to see the situation in Iraq a bit more on its own terms.

An update on yesterday's discussion of the ABC/WaPo poll on Social Security -- and this one's a pretty big deal.

Last night I wrote that the poll showed that 53% of respondents favored private accounts but that number dropped to 46% (with 47% opposed) when costs of up to $2 trillion were added to the equation.

But it seems that's incorrect and the real finding was far more favorable.

I went back and looked at what appears to be a revised version of the Post story I referenced yesterday to see exactly what they said. But even the revised version states: "The president also has at least general support from 53 percent of the public for the concept of letting people control some of their contributions to invest in the market ... Support dropped to an even split when people were told that the cost of the transition to a new program could reach $2 trillion over time ..."

The original version of the article, I believe, provided the specific numbers, but this reference to an "even split" is clearly a reference to the numbers falling to 46% for, 47% against. Or at least I can't see any other way of interpreting it.

All I can figure is that the authors of the piece weren't clear on what the numbers actually said. (I don't say that lightly; they're both solid reporters. But I don't see any other way to interpret how they characterize the data.) This is clear in ABC's compilation of the data; and it's noted in their write-up of the poll as well. Indeed, if you look at the section of the Post's complete poll data which references this question, you'll see quite clearly that this question was "asked [only] of those who support a stock market option."

That means that it's not 46% of respondents who still support private accounts but only 46% of the originally-private-account-supporting 53%. Or, in other words, just under 25% of respondents support Bush's plan once they know the costs and an overwhelming 69% oppose it.

That's a pretty big difference.

[ed. note: A special thanks to readers JD and SC for flagging my attention to this point.]

Gen. Richard Myers at today's Pentagon briefing: "This attack [in Mosul], of course, is the responsibility of insurgents, the same insurgents who attacked on 9/11, the same type of insurgents who attacked in Beirut, the same insurgents who -- type of insurgents who attacked the Cole, Khobar Towers, and the list goes on."

Kerik resigns from Giuliani partners.

Did Rudy make him an offer he couldn't refuse?

Just a quick update on the Dems' Fainthearted Faction mentioned below.

At least a couple of folks on this list are now making what appear to be unequivocal statements against phasing out Social Security. And we'll be bringing you those updates later today. But let's review what the list is.

These are thirteen Democratic congressmen who, when given a chance three years ago to make a clear vote in favor of preserving Social Security rather than phasing it out with a private accounts sytem, voted no.

Perhaps they didn't give the issue enough thought then; maybe they wanted to keep an open mind and not prejudge the issue; perhaps the significance of the vote wasn't clear; maybe they've changed their position since then. Who knows? And, to a degree, who cares?

The question is where they stand now.

The larger point here is that the defenders of Social Security need to have all Democrats standing united against phasing out Social Security. And these are thirteen reps who at least seemed open to the idea in the past. The point is not to bash them but to find out where they stand today.

I want you to meet some friends of ours.

We call them the Fainthearted-Faction. They're the thirteen Democrats who look most likely to go wobbly when President Bush comes a'courting, asking for votes to phase out Social Security.

But first a bit of history.

I was recently reminded that back in 2001 there was something called the Filner Amendment. Without getting too bogged down in the details, this was a proxy vote on Social Security 'privatization'. Specifically, it aimed to "prohibit funds for the purpose of implementing the final report" of the President's Social Security Commission (i.e., privatization).

It turned out pretty much a party line vote. But not entirely.

Twenty Democrats voted against it.

The good news -- if of, shall we say, a rather painful sort and the kind one can only survive so much of -- is that six of those representatives aren't in the 109th congress -- for reasons ranging from defeat to retirement to felony conviction. And one has become a Republican -- Ralph Hall of Texas. But that still leaves 13 members who are already on the slippery slope to Boydville.

They are ...

Dennis Moore
Tom Allen
Marion Berry
Allen Boyd
Robert "Bud" Cramer
Ron Kind
James Moran
Collin Peterson
Adam Schiff
Adam Smith
Ike Skelton
John Tanner
Gene Taylor

I might note that one of those no longer in the congress is Tim Roemer, member of the 9/11 commission, and now an aspirant to head the DNC.

I'm a fan of Roemer's, though not necessarily a supporter of his for the DNC post. But I imagine he's going to have to really 'refine' his stance on this issue if he wants to have even the slightest chance of winning that contest.

More generally, opposition to phasing out Social Security, per se, is not the only grounds to persuade members of the Fainthearted-Faction to come to their senses on this issue. There's also the rather powerful argument of fiscal sanity. Putting the nation another two trillion dollars into debt over the next decade when we're already laboring under very large structural deficits is more than a little foolish. And most members of the Faction are fiscally conservative. So that's a promising appeal.

Finally, we've decided to put our own Social Security 'where do they stand' database together at TPM. And we're going to be getting help from some others who've already started doing this work separately from us. But we'll need volunteers to help collect and organize the data. Are you interested in getting involved? Let us know.