Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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John Harwood's squib on Social Security from today's WSJ Washington Wire (sub. required) ...

PRESSURE RISES on Social Security.

A senior Bush adviser sees "ice breaking" around opposition of some Democrats to the administration plan. Fellow Democrats, chafing at Lieberman's flirtation with Bush, circulate his criticism of "risky private accounts" in the run-up to his 2004 presidential run.

Despite White House courting, Democratic Sen. Nelson of Nebraska is unlikely to embrace Bush's private-account plan, an associate predicts. House Democratic campaign committee seeks donations to fuel "caught-on-tape" drive to weaken Republican members by publicizing alleged flip-flops on the issue.

Plan B? Republicans insist Bush could "win" without legislation by hitting "anti-reform" Democrats.

On point one, I've watched this crew long enough to know the MO. So I don't think there's any <$Ad$>reason to believe this 'senior Bush adviser' is doing anything but talking out of an orifice other than his mouth. Their whole angle is say they're holding more cards than they are to push their opponents off balance.

But why not be careful? As we've said, I think two members of the Graham senate book club are looking to make a deal. And I think their angle is to fiddle with the payroll tax as a way to let their faint little hearts get to that Holy Grail of Faintheartedness, the prized private accounts. That's what they want to do and I think that's what they're trying to do.

I talk to various of Sen. Lieberman's political friends and we wonder between ourselves: What is it exactly? Is he just a man out of time now? Too stung by how the 2004 primaries went and just doesn't care what Dems think? Or maybe he thinks he's legislating for history here. A lot of folks who are generally in line with Lieberman, and like him, ended up not supporting him in the primaries because they worried not about his political views but about his political judgment. So the irony here is that he's displaying the same political tin ear and questionable judgment that kept many like-minded Dems from supporting him. And their very lack of support stung him so badly that it has accentuated those tendencies that kept them off the Joe team to begin with.

And remember, I'm not talking about John Sweeney or Andy Stern here. I'm talking about card-carrying New Dems.

Just this morning I was talking with some political players involved in the Social Security fight and they were wondering how quickly a few hundred thousand dollars of seed money could be raised to fund a decent primary opponent to run against Lieberman next year. And I have to say, I think they could raise it pretty quickly.

After half a decade without any senators to represent me, I'm happy to have two I can call my own again. And luckily, Schumer and Clinton are strong supporters of Social Security. But if I lived in Connecticut and my own senator ended up deep-sixing Social Security all by himself, I'd certainly support someone who challenged him. Actually, I'd happily see him replaced by a Republican if that's what it came to.

Millions rely on Social Security, a right earned through a lifetime of work. It's a compact between citizens and between generations. And like all truly good legislation it makes for good policy and good politics. One senator from Connecticut is a small thing when weighed in that balance.

He's the deal-maker. All the signs are showing it.

Sen. Lieberman's popular in Connecticut. But there must be some folks in Connecticut who support Social Security too.

Lieberman promoted to Dean of Senate Faction!

Tells reporters America needs more faint hearts so we can all be friends!

(Okay, he didn't say that. But he has been promoted to Senate Dean.)

More to follow ...

Rep. Aderholt (R) of Alabama a possible Caucus man?

Some interesting comments from the article: Aderholt "has yet to see much mail from constituents about it. He figures they're waiting to see the details. Most of the comments so far are coming from activist groups on both sides of the issue, he noted."

"There's not a lot of details of the president's plan out there. We certainly want to hear from our constituents. I've not committed to the president or the leadership what I would do." Later he says Social Security is meant to be a safety net. "If we take that away, it's defeating the purpose of Social Security. So many Americans today depend on Social Security as a major part of their income."

Here's the comments Aderholt made after coming back from a visit to the White House to hear the president's pitch on Social Security on February 9th.

If Aderholt does eventually join the Conscience Caucus, he'd join fellow Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers (R), who came in back on the 6th of February.

I'm curious whether Aderholt has really gotten as little feedback on phase-out as he claims. It's quite unpopular in the state. Even Sen. Richard Shelby (R) has made a series of skeptical statements about the president's plan.

Of the state's other House Republicans, Rep. Spencer Bachus seems most, as the Tuscaloosa News puts it, "in lockstep" with the Bush plan. A constituent letter we've seen marks Rep. Terry Everett as basically a phase-out man. And Rep. Jo Bonner (R) remains on the fence.

In this article on Rep. Chris Chocola's Social Security meetings in his district this week, the author says Chocola (R) of Indiana starts by telling constituents he is there "to ask for ideas from his constituency about how to fix the Social Security situation." But as the article goes on to show, he then stands before the audience and shoots down everything his constituents suggest beside private accounts.

In this article from the South Bend Tribune, Chocola claims he has never been an advocate of privatization -- despite the fact that he is on record supporting privatization.

Actually, this one is really a doozy since the paper says that Democrats have "targeted Chocola, criticizing him for allegedly stating in the past that he would like to see the entire Social Security system privatized." Just why the 'allegedly' is in there is a bit hard to figure since the same paper on November 1st, 2000 quoted Chocola saying: "Bush's plan of individual investment of 2 percent of the money is a start. Eventually, I'd like to see the entire system privatized."

A July 25th 2002 article in the Tribune explains that Chocola has since tried to dismiss the quote by arguing that "he was 'conceptualizing' during the discussion with the Truth editorial board and did not then or ever call for privatizing the entire Social Security system." Here Chocola seems to have been trying to devise his own Social Security speech code in which saying "I'd like to see the entire system privatized" does not count as "call[ing] for" or "endorsing" complete privatization.

In any case, as you can see, Chocola is quite a piece o' work. And today he claims to have staked out the rather less controversial position of being an "an advocate for addressing the issue, getting all possible solutions on the table and getting beyond politics."

From what we can tell from recent reports from the district and from Chocola's tough stand as a proponent of "addressing the issue" his efforts to sell his constituents on phase-out isn't going that well. And we would be remiss if we didn't mention that the Chocola has never quite been a rock star at the polls. In 2002, he got in with a clean 50% of the vote (a Libertarian candidate pulled 4%). In 2004, he expanded his margin to a 54%. Not the end of the world but certainly not out of the woods either. For all of these reasons we were surprised and delighted to hear that President Bush has decided to come to town next Friday and give a speech on the glories of phase-out at Notre Dame, which is in Chocola's district.

So two points to watch over the next week. Will Chocola admit that he said "he would like to see the entire Social Security system privatized" and that he, presumably, wasn't in a trance when he said it? And will President Bush's trip get Chocola to come up with some clearer position than his current one of "addressing the issue, getting all possible solutions on the table and getting beyond politics."

(ed.note: One more thing. Chocola's original comment about wanting "to see the entire Social Security system privatized" came in a visit with the editors of the Elkhart Truth, a local paper. Yet the Truth isn't in Nexis (yeah, I'm chuckled too). Now, I assume someone from around there can get hold of a copy of the original paper version of the article or a copy of it on microfilm. What I'd like to get is a scanned copy of the original article, preferably a relatively clean one so the text is easily legible. A 'Privatize This' T-Shirt for the first TPM Reader who can get it scanned and send it on in to TPM world headquarters.)

Let's be frank. Has anyone seen an article from anywhere in the country in which a Republican representative or senator has held a public meeting pushing Social Security privatization and not been greeted by an audience that appears either decidedly or overwhelmingly opposed? Most of the articles make some attempt to say that people could be found endorsing a variety of positions -- some favoring the president's plan, some not. But, again, I want to see how many articles there are in which it appears that the overall response to privatization was positive. I'm eager to see one.

Do people laugh in Treasury Secretary <$NoAd$>John Snow's face when he says stuff like this ...

Snow said there are also economic benefits to the proposed changes. Businesses would not have to compete with the government to borrow money that might be needed to cover a Social Security deficit, there will be an infusion of investments to fund business expansion and job creation and payroll taxes wouldn't be raised.

Admittedly, Snow is not one of the more esteemed Treasury Secretaries in recent decades. But really, phase-out is going to lead to less government borrowing and free up capital for business expansion?

What about the three or four trillion dollars phase-out will cost over the next two or three decades? Even if you take the view that the government is going to borrow that money and then touch it to the heads of individual workers before compelling them to invest it in one of three or four government-administered low-risk investment funds, that hardly seems like a model for letting that capital find its most productive outlets.

Presumably, Snow is talking about that late 21st century Elysium in which everything comes out great in the end and all the debt just melts away.

Treasury Secretary John Snow endorses big benefit cuts. Here's his line from Tampa today. "If you are 20 or 30, the system cannot deliver those benefits, it can't afford them. In other words, it can't deliver on the promise."

It's a policy decision whether we choose whether or not to phase out Social Security. Snow is saying it's not in our power to keep Social Security intact for those retiring in 30 or 40 years. Not true. We can make changes that will keep the program solvent through all through those people's retirement. Indeed, it is possible that it will continue on through their retirement even if no changes are made.

Snow is saying phase-out is inevitable so he can duck responsibility for conceding that it is the policy he prefers.

I was starting to wonder when someone was going to start pressing this point. It seems like half the high-profile Republican Social Security townhalls we cover ends up having Deputy Social Security Commissioner James B. Lockhart III there to preach the phase-out gospel. The Times has a piece on it Friday.

We're always on the look-out for companies making shrewd investments and acquisitions. So today we were interested to see the latest news about Chinese computer manufacturer Lenovo and their on-going effort to purchase the PC division of IBM.

A couple months ago Lenovo and IBM agreed to the purchase. But, as you might imagine, US regulators have serious concerns about the potential for industrial espionage (and, I would assume, good old-fashioned espionage espionage too) given that IBM is one of the leading US computer manufacturers, as well as a center of high-tech research.

According to today's report from Bloomberg, US regulators still aren't satisfied that IBM and Lenovo have dealt with the national security concerns surrounding the deal and have yet to sign off on it.

Now, I had actually heard a while back that Lenovo's stock had gone up on the first news of the regulatory hold-up because the IBM PC division's profit margins are so thin and investors question whether Lenovo should be buying the thing in the first place.

So what's the shrewd acquisition?

Well, I don't know about Lenovo. But IBM knows what's up. They just went out and bought Bruce Mehlman to grease the wheels of the federal bureaucracy and get the deal done. And that's quite an acquisition since Bruce is the brother of Ken Mehlman, Chairman of the Republican National Committee and Chairman of President Bush's successful reelection campaign.

In other words, Bruce's brother is arguably the man most responsible for the president's reelection after Karl Rove. So I figure he gets his calls returned and doors get opened, maybe even export restrictions.

All I can think to say is: Brad Card, stay by your phone.