Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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TPM reader DD makes a good point.

In Jonathan Weisman's Friday piece in the Post on Social Security he has this passage ...

White House officials responded that even if the accounts produced no more benefit than the traditional system, they would still be valuable.

"Even if I break even, we would argue I'm still better off because I own the money," a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "If I die, it belongs to my estate. If I divorce, it's a marital asset. And it's protected from political risk. Government can't take it away."

If it's a 'marital asset', you really do own it. So what if you go bankrupt? What happens then?

Eyes wide open ...

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says getting rid of public pension plans for California's state and local government workers is about helping to balance the budget. Peel back the budget wrapping on his plan, though, and you will find the governor's real agenda: the California prong of a national attack on the pension funds that have stood up for corporate reform and the interests of ordinary families and investors hurt by the recent wave of corporate scandal. The governor has proposed privatizing government pension plans and replacing them with individual 401(k)-style private accounts. His proposal strikes at the power of public pension funds, which have used their financial clout to protect the retirement savings of 2 million Californians — teachers, police officers and other public servants."

That's from Phil Angelides, Treasurer of the state of California, in his opinion column in this morning's LA Times.

Strictly house keeping.

This new article in Newsweek contains a brief reference to TPM as a blog covering the Social Security debate.

But down at the bottom of the page, in a box entitled "Sponsored Links" there is this 'sponsored link' ... "Social Security Reform Reform or marketing hoax? Get the facts. TalkingPointsMemo.com"

Click on the link and it takes you to this post.

Given that it's a Google link, it's probably appearing elsewhere too.

Now, in the four years TPM has been around, there are many worse problems we've had to deal with than free paid publicity. But TPM does no paid advertising ever. We didn't pay for this. And we don't know who did. It was only random chance that I even noticed it.

It's certainly no federal case. And the logic of it suggests it was paid for by someone or some organization who agrees with our position and wants to spread the word. We'll be contacting Google to find out who. But we thought it was important to set the record straight.

We don't run ads for TPM or our work on Social Security. Whoever is is not connected with us in any way.

Knock, knock, knock ...

From the Lawrence Journal-World: "Count U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, of Hays, as a Republican who opposes President Bush's proposal to divert Social Security revenues into private investment accounts. 'I dislike the connection of those accounts with the Social Security system,' Moran said during a visit to the state Capitol. Moran said he feared the transition costs of diverting money from Social Security would add to the deficit and that taxpayers who didn't do well with their investments would eventually seek help from Congress."

First in a series of great Fred Hiatt moments. This from Monday's column ...

"On domestic affairs the Democrats find themselves in a similar box. Since for the most part they cheerfully drank Bush's tax-cut Kool-Aid in 2001, you may not have much sympathy for their quandary."

Number of House Democrats who voted for the president's 2001 tax cut: 28. Number of senators: 12.

I'm actually a little surprised Vice President Cheney said this. But if he wants to be upfront about the folly of his administration's proposal, who am I to complain?

This from Fox ...

"We're going to borrow $758 [b]illion over the next 10 years to set up the personal retirement accounts. We think that's a manageable amount ... Trillions more after that," Cheney said, acknowledging that the personal accounts will help younger workers but will not solve all the problems of solvency.

As the Fox interviewer, Chris Wallace, made clear in the interview, the $758 billion number is itself the product of a little numerical flimflam. As Wallace says at one point in the conversation, "Isn't that misleading? Because under <$Ad$> your plan, the accounts, the program wouldn't actually start til 2009. So, if you take the first full 10 years, when people can actually invest in the program, the cost is over $1 trillion, and for the following 10 years, it's $3.5 trillion. Isn't it a lot more expensive?"

In fact, I think it's considerably worse than Wallace says. But let's leave that aside and assume it was only what Cheney says.

As we've noted repeatedly here, the biggest threat to Social Security is our accumulated national debt -- actually, even more our accumulating national debt. If we only had the debt load we have now and weren't adding hundreds of billions of dollars every year because of the president's policies, we could probably grow our way out of it.

In any case, indebtedness is our problem. And Cheney's solution is to borrow many trillions more dollars over the next two or three decades, in addition to our existing structural budget deficits which are likely themselves unsustainable. And he and the White House now admit this will do nothing to improve the financial condition of Social Security.

Following any reasonable calculation the entire debate should end right there -- though I concede that rational calculation ain't what it used to be.

Look what we hear from the administration's own collective mouth. Their solution to the problem does nothing to solve the problem -- not me saying it, them saying it. However, it does cost trillions of dollars. In fact, it will cost -- by their own estimation -- much more over the next 20 years than it would to keep Social Security going strong for the next 75 years.

At what point does this proposed policy collapse under the weight of its own ridiculousness?

Bloomberg: "McCain, who said he supports the idea 'in principle,' said, 'there's a number of members of the Senate and House who are not happy about President Bush coming to a neighborhood near them.'"

Is Rep. Heather Wilson (R) of New Mexico on the level?

Wilson represents New Mexico's 1st congressional district, which is centered on Albuquerque. She won with 54% of the vote in 2004 and 55% in 2002.

We've been watching the constituent mail Wilson's been sending out on Social Security and it reads right from the Speech Code playbook, sounding like she opposes phase-out but not really saying that at all.

So for instance she says she opposes 'privatization'. But of course under the speech code rules, private accounts aren't 'privatization'. She also says "government should not invest Social Security funds in the stock market." That certainly sounds like it means she's against phasing out Social Security. But the key word here is "government". Under private accounts individuals would be investing their money.

I know it may seem like I'm reading this constituent mail a tad too closely at this point. But, as you can imagine, I've read a lot of this constituent mail at this point. And representative who want to carve private accounts out of Social Security routinely use this "I won't let the government invest" language.

All of this makes her no different from a slew of other members of Congress around the country who are trying to bamboozle their constituents on Social Security. The reason I note her, though, is that the AP is running a story today putting Wilson down as opposing the president's plan.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., echoed Democrats' opposition to Bush's plan, saying she opposes efforts to invest even a portion of Social Security revenues in private accounts.

"I don't believe the government should invest Social Security taxes in the stock market," said Wilson, who represents New Mexico's Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District.

So my question is this: Did the AP just get bamboozled by Wilson's word choice flimflam? Or is she just one of the only Republicans using the English language with its plain meaning when it comes to Social Security?

Better to reign in the Club for Growth than serve in Congress?

We spoke on Friday about how Pat Toomey, cast out of Congress and down into the Club for Growth, had, with his associates and copartners, set about making war on his former Republican colleagues in Congress over Social Security phase-out.

The Syracuse Post-Standard picks up the story on one Toomey target: restored Conscience Caucus member Rep. Sherry Boehlert (R) of New York.

Birmingham, Alabama Dems adopt an anti-Social Security phase-out resolution.

In fact, Alabama turns out to be something of a hotbed of opposition to phase-out, among both Democrats and Republicans. Of which we'll say more later.