Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Noam Scheiber catches David Brooks in the act, trying to find the back door to phase-out now that the front door approach may be blocked.

A TPM reader -- SS -- makes a great point. Can we keep this Bamboozlepalooza Tour going?

In Michigan, where the president is today, almost half the Republicans in the congressional delegation are in the Caucus or bucking for entry. Can the president plan a trip to, maybe, Alabama, another hotbed of Caucusism. Or maybe Missouri? Heck, why not Texas? I'd be happy to work up an itinerary.

Late Update: Come to think of it: Ohio.

According to a new media advisory "Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Co-Chairs of the Senate Centrist Coalition, will convene a meeting of the coalition" this afternoon on the Hill. They'll get a briefing from "Maya MacGuineas of New America Foundation [a sensible privatization advocate], Peter Orszag of Brookings Institution [a sensible Social Security advocate] and David John of the Heritage Foundation [an insensible privatization advocate]... on fiscal matters, including budget deficits and Social Security."

Just in case anyone's wondering, reinstatement in the Faction can happen in the flash of an eye.

Frank? Frank Luntz? Calling Frank Luntz? It seems President Bush needs a refresher course in how not to use pejorative terms to describe his own policy.

Hope is the most fleeting of commodities on the bloody and inter-mingled border between Israel and the future Palestinian state. But today, there is at least more than a little of it.

Someday it'll probably be like the AMEX commercial: Conscience Caucus member since January '05.

In any case, before we get to that point, some of the early-adopters are certainly trying to make clear that they've been in the Caucus longer than all these Johnny-Come-Latelies. Today, in The Day of New London, Connecticut, early Caucus member Rep. Rob Simmons (R) reaffirms his Caucus membership and Loud and Proud status.

Rob Simmons, in the Caucus before it was cool.

And right as Rob Simmons is digging in his heels and making sure everyone knows he was a Caucus man from way back, there's Sen. Arlen Specter, first member of the senate Caucus, goin' all wobbly.

Here's Specter from an interview published today by the Washington Times ...

Q. Do you agree with the president's plan for changing Social Security?

A. I'm waiting for a specifiation and the details. I have an open mind on it. I'm not going to give the president a blank check, nor am I going to line up with the people who say they're unalterably opposed. I'm against cutting Social Security benefits. I'm against borrowing extensively. But I want to see what the presient has in mind.

Q. Do you support private accounts?

A. I'm prepared to listen.

Q. You sound skeptical.

A. Well, I'm prepared to listen to see how they would be done. How will they be financed? How much money will it take out of the system? We pretty much a pay-as-you-go program, paying out as the contributions are made. How will it work? People are talking about gigantic borrowing. I'm not for that.

Prepared to listen? That chairmanship must be feelin' pretty good, I guess. Or is it Pat Toomey clawing back from the political netherworld?

Because that's sure not what Arlen told his constituents just four weeks ago.

As we reported on January 6th of this year, in his constituent mail sent out on the Social Security issue, Specter told Pennsylvanians ...

On the issue of privatization, I had some time ago considered an idea to place a relatively small portion of benefits in an investment account, providing that the “security” aspect of Social Security was retained and the investment was under professional management. However, with the severe fluctuations of the stock market, I have since rejected that idea.

Considered, rejected, prepared to listen. I just can't keep up.

Back in the day (you remember the day, right?) every time a president came forward with a budget, reporters would pore over the thing. And any line item or provision or assumption that wasn't based on the most rock-solid accounting or didn't take into account the most pessimistic prognosication was instantly given that most infamous of DC budgeting sobriquets: the dreaded "smoke and mirrors."

Nowadays I guess you could say things have changed. How else can it be when an OMB Director can simply state that borrowing a trillion dollars doesn't count as new debt?

"Transition financing does not represent new debt," OMB chief Josh Bolten said yesterday.

And while we're at it, it would be stingy not to recognize that the White House has now given new meaning to phrase 'unified budgeting'. In the Bush White House lexicon that would refer to a budget that included not only the president's 'budget' but also his major new spending proposals.

Let me share with you one of the problems I've been having handling admissions policy for the Conscience Caucus.

Human nature being what it is, the Caucus is like any other club. As the Caucus gets more popular, the admissions policies have grown tighter, more restrictive.

So, for instance, back in the early days of the Caucus, freshman Rep. Dave Reichert (R) of Washington got in merely for telling the Tri-City Herald that "he was intrigued by the idea of personal accounts, but was reluctant to add to the federal deficit." Nowadays, a little aside like that would hardly get you past the first interview. And Reichert's status in the Caucus is actually currently under review since, as near as we can tell, he's been mum on Social Security phase-out ever since.

But this tighter criteria does leave part of the story untold. As we've been reviewing the coverage over the last few days, it is striking just how few Republican senators are willing to go on the record in support of the president's plan. I'm not saying they're opposing it or that they won't sign on soon enough. But the resistance to simply saying, "Yes, I support the president's plan" is pretty telling.

Here's one example.

Of the states on the Bamboozlepalooza tour, there were three Republican senators: Burns of Montana, Hagel of Nebraska and Martinez of Florida.

As far as I can tell not one of them was willing to say they support he president's plan.

When the president was in Montana, Burns said he would "continue to look at it" but still had more questions, particularly about how to pay for it. After Burns got done introducing Bush at the event and a Times reporter asked if he supported the plan, he said he was still "crunching numbers." To yet another reporter, Burns said he was "intrigued" by the president's plan, but not ready to sign on. "Social Security is still a very, very important part of the retirement of a lot of seniors in Montana," he went on to say. "So we'll listen and we'll look and we'll probe ... and see what is in it for the next generation."

Hagel told the Christian Science Monitor that while he supported private accounts in principle, he wasn't ready to sign on with the president's plan. The key graf ...

"There's no question this is a tough sell," said Senator Hagel, who is preparing to unveil his own plan for Social Security in the next few weeks. "Social Security has probably been the most successful, important program we've had in government. Everyone is touched; there should be questions." He expressed doubt over whether a bill could be passed this year. "Next year is OK," he said.

Then there's freshman Senator Mel Martinez of Florida. This is what the Palm Beach Post had to say about Martinez at the Bamboozlepalooza tour's stop in Tampa: "One hint of the difficulty Bush is facing came from U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who was applauded by Bush for his support of the president's proposal. But after the event, Martinez said he supports private accounts but needs more detail before he can make a final decision."

Of the three, I'd say Burns (improbably enough) is the only one who's even possibly Caucus material, having read all the different coverage of each of the three over the last week. But just how many Republican senators are there who are willing to say now that they support the president's plan? It's hard to say, not least because many have managed to slip through without saying anything at all. Without having done any sort of organized count, but having looked at comments from a number of them over the past few days, I would not be surprised at all if less than half the Republican caucus is willing now to declare their support for the president's plan.