Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's (R) message for (pro-Social Security) West Virginians about her Social Security townhall meetings next week: "I will describe the problem, but I'm not going to be advocating for any particular solution. If I go to all these town meetings and it's a stampede against reform, I'll have to factor that into my thinking."

Bamboozlepalooza flops in North Carolina too.

According to a fresh News & Observer poll, 46% of Tarheels "disapprove" or "strongly disapprove" of the president's position on Social Security, while a mere 31% either "approves" or "strongly approves."

(ed.note: The article notes that the poll oversampled women -- 60% of poll respondents but only 51% of the population. The poll also found, separate from the over-sampling, that women were markedly more skeptical of the Bush plan than men. 40% of male North Carolinians approved of the president's stance while 38% opposed. For women the numbers were flipped, 26% to 50%. A special note of thanks to valued TPM Reader DS for letting us know.)

With the developments of the last two days, we had to add a new classification to the Fainthearted Faction: "WMD".

"WMD", say the newly updated Faction bylaws, "denotes members who say they want to protect Social Security but really just 'Wanna Make a Deal'."

Stop the presses!

Call Richard Blumenthal!

Lieberman back in the Faction in a big, big way.

From this afternoon's Congress Daily ...

Lieberman 'Listening And Learning' About Private Accounts

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., is undecided about the concept of using payroll taxes to fund private Social Security accounts, bringing to three the known number of Senate Democrats who have yet to publicly rule out the idea. President Bush has made the accounts the centerpiece of his domestic agenda. But other than Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida, no congressional Democrats have formally signed on. While Lieberman has concerns about the idea, he is continuing to study it while hoping for more details on Social Security from the president, a Lieberman aide said today. "He's still in a listening and learning stage and is keeping an open mind, but he does have concerns about private accounts as carve-outs that would potentially undermine the guaranteed minimum benefit and worsen our fiscal health and debt load," a Lieberman aide said today.

It seems like only 2002 when Joe was saying ...

We understand Social Security's economic value and appreciate its moral value, and that we won't let it be diluted, dismantled or dissolved ... Simply put, Social Security privatization would take away the safety from the safety net, and turn the idea of a rainy day fund into a sink or swim proposition. If you don't choose wisely, you lose badly. And the government's response to bad luck would be to say, "tough luck."

That's what's so complicated about the whole moral values thing, at least as some folks practice <$Ad$> it. You can appreciate the moral value of something, but still want to learn more about phasing it out.

Maybe we can hear from all the Connecticut Dems who want their Senator to throw a vital lifeline to the forces of phase-out just as they're sinking in the waves.

Now, is this a flip-flop? Or is this where Lieberman's been throughout? I spoke to a Lieberman aide this afternoon and this person told me that "the senator hasn't changed his position, that he has serious concerns about private savings accounts that would jeopardize Social Security. But he remains open-minded about reforms that would strengthen the program."

That may be true. The truth is that Lieberman's statements over the last two months have been enough in the grey area that that may be right. But to me, at least, the issue isn't whether he's changed his position, it's what his position is right now.

Lieberman fans -- a group in which I have sometimes classed myself -- might tell you that Joe's just dancing now. And at the end of the day, he'll do the right thing, though to me that seems in doubt. But even if it's true, quite frankly, it doesn't matter. The damage he is doing, perhaps irreparable, is now.

Here's why.

As we've said from the start, the key to saving Social Security is Democratic unity. Look at those folks on the Conscience Caucus list. With a very few exceptions they are only there because there's no Democratic cover to make the vote. That's created time for the public to look and see what the president is trying to do. And the more they look, the more they turn against his plan. Throw in a few Democrats supporting phase-out and all but a handful of them will firm up and vote with the White House. Let's say every Dem for phase-out frees up three Republicans.

At the moment, too, the trend of the Social Security story is all running against the president. He can't get the seats filled in New Hampshire, the polls are bad, the Republicans in Congress are increasingly worried, scurrying for cover.

Give him Lieberman and suddenly the President is making headway in the Senate where the key vote will be made. A high-profile Democrat, like Lieberman, for phase-out would probably nail down three or four Senate Republicans for the president. In similar fashion, it would put an equal number of Senate Democrats back in play. One or two of those Dems sign on and you'll see them bring more with them. With a shift like that, suddenly phase-out is back in business and quite possibly even filibuster proof.

On the House side, with a Senate pal for Rep. Allen Boyd, you'd likely see a similar change.

Even if Lieberman eventually decides to keep his hands clean when phase-out comes to a vote, it might not matter since his individual vote probably wouldn't be needed. The damage would already be done.

A Senator re-enters the Fainthearted Faction ... And it ain't pretty. News to follow.

A quick and simple question some enterprising New Hampshire political reporter might put to Rep. Jeb Bradley (R).

The congressman says he flatly opposes 'privatization'. But the fine print now says that by 'privatization' he means a plan in which the "system is wholly administered through a private entity or corporation as opposed to public administration of the system that occurs today."

So the queston: Can Bradley point to any individual or institution that has proposed this policy? If not, is there any reason he has continued to prominently make this promise other than to fool his constituents into believing he opposes private accounts?

Yesterday, several New Hampshire newspapers ran stories reporting that Bradley opposed 'private accounts'. Presumably, that is because he managed to pull the wool over their eyes with his wordgame flimflam.

I'm ashamed! Ashamed, I tell you!

(Actually, just between you and me, I'm a bit ashamed.)

Just yesterday, we added Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) of New Hampshire to the Conscience Caucus even though the line that got him in was merely a claim to oppose "privatization."

How that got past me is a really good question. As we noted yesterday evening, no less a man than the President of the United States seemed to put Bradley in the Caucus. Every paper in New Hampshire from the Union Leader to the Concord Monitor to Foster's Daily Democrat fronted with Bradley's opposition to the president. We even rung up Bradley's spokesperson Stephanie DuBois and asked if his opposition to 'privatization' meant opposition to private accounts.

DuBois told me she'd have to discuss that with the congressman directly and that she'd try to get back to us, though we didn't hear back from her.

With so many red flags, you'd think we wouldn't have fallen for this one like a cub reporter the first day on the job.

But it seems that sometime after we talked to her, DuBois did find out and she gave the word to the Union Leader. And Bradley turns out to be anothe mumbojumbo man cut from the same cloth as Rep. Heather Wilson.

According to this morning's Union Leader ...

Bradley spokesman Stephanie DuBois yesterday said he continues to oppose privatization of Social Security, which he has defined as turning over administration of the system to the private sector. But he would consider personal accounts, which President Bush has been calling for, DuBois said.

In a new written statement, he says ...

Privatization of Social Security means the system is wholly administered through a private entity or corporation as opposed to public administration of the system that occurs today. We need to proceed in a deliberative manner that looks at the different options, which may include personal retirement accounts, that can enable our nation to address the looming problems facing Social Security.

So like so many other playbook gamers, when Bradley says he opposes 'privatization' he is using the word to refer to something that no one has ever proposed, making his statement not only meaningless but nothing more than a transparent attempt to bamboozle his constituents.

Needless to say, Bradley's short stay in the Caucus just came to an abrupt halt.

Trouble in Phase-Out City, reports the LA Times: "President Bush's push to transform Social Security is in trouble, despite intense salesmanship designed to build support in Congress and with the public."

Kevin Drum has some apt comments on what it means.

Et Tu, Kent?

I don't want to worry you needlessly, fellow sleuths. But some senators may be smiling at your Social-Security-loving faces while plotting phase-out behind your backs.

Upsetting, I know. But be strong.

As you know, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina has been running a bipartisan phase-out book club up on the hill. And my sources tell me that the participants are ...

Baucus (D) Carper (D) Collins (R) Conrad (D) Feinstein (D) Graham (R) Grassley (R) Gregg (R) Lieberman (D) Lincoln (D) Ben Nelson (D) Bill Nelson (D)

As you can see, quite a few current and former members of the Faction grace the list. But what's always been odd about this group is that Graham has made clear that phase-out is what's on the table, albeit perhaps a more honestly-budgeted and less draconian form of it.

And yet by my count, at least five of the Dems on that list are on record against phase-out, the key point being private accounts carved-out from Social Security.

And this invites an obvious question: Just what do they have to talk about?

I'll admit that I like sitting around in a circle and shooting the breeze about the latest Social Security primer as much as the next guy. Perhaps they're even singing a little Kumbaya just to loosen things up. But if everyone's being on the level, there shouldn't be any point of compromise possible.

And yet today we hear this from Bloomberg News ...

Graham, who leads a group of Democrats and Republicans discussing Social Security and is working with the White House, said he would present a plan within the next couple of weeks that provides the outline for a compromise with Democrats.

Now, given the tone of things, it would look awfully foolish to come out with a plan that purports to be an outline for a compromise with Democrats if you didn't have even one Democrat on board. And Graham is no fool. In fact, Social Security aside as well as many other political disagreements, he's a solid senator with independence and integrity, as near as we can tell.

So who's getting ready to sign on?

Who on that list isn't being on the level?

We've even got a new designation ready for any of them who said they were out of the Faction and then did the deed: "SIB" ("Stab in the Back").

We're pretty sure Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida wouldn't sign on to anything so villainous, if for no other reason than that he appears to have made a strategic decision to campaign for reelection next year on the basis of opposing phase-out.

About Baucus and Feinstein we think there's some reason to think they're on the level too -- though it's nothing we'd put money on.

But of the others, who knows?