Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A simple question that should be asked of Scott McClellan tomorrow and the president whenever the next opportunity arises ...

The Social Security Trust Fund now has accumulated roughly $1.8 trillion worth of US Treasury bonds. That total debt of the United States government is, if memory serves, just over $7 trillion. US Treasury bonds are owned by Americans, foreigners, individuals, pension funds, everybody under the sun. Most of the president's personal wealth appears to be tied up in them. They're universally considered to be the safest investment in the world. George W. Bush is the President of the United States. So the question is to him. Are the Treasury notes in the Social Security Trust Fund backed by the full faith and credit of the United States every bit as much as the bonds everyone else owns?

Everything the president is saying implies that they are not, that there is a very big question about whether those notes can or will ever be redeemed. So if they're not, the president should say so now.

Wouldn't it be something if the battle for Social Security was won on the Hill and on the hustings but lost in the newsrooms?

It could be happen. Actually, it might be happening right now.

I've got a list here of Republicans who went into the Conscience Caucus today. And with any luck I'll be able to post on most of them tonight. For a sampling, take a look at this AP article. But right now the White House and its Hill allies can see they're losing this debate because the essential fraudulence of their arguments are being exposed.

President Bush's top aides are getting cornered into admitting that private accounts won't do anything to improve the solvency of Social Security. Actually, it pushes it toward insolvency. But candor comes in small packages from these folks. So I guess be grateful. The claim that there was any 'crisis' tanked so quickly even the White House isn't making that argument anymore. And as the Post notes, most of the money you make in your private account goes back to the government. The White House is now furiously denying it. But we've got the transcript of the "senior administration official" saying just that to reporters.

Across the board, the debate is going badly because the whole plan is being revealed for what it is: not an effort to shore up or preserve Social Security but an attempt to phase the program out. You can even see various news outlets over the last 72 hours swaying back to 'private accounts' and 'privatization' in their discussions of President Bush's plan.

And for all these reasons the RNC and the White House are launching a furious assault against the major national news outlets trying to muscle them into shifting the tone and the assumptions of their coverage. The cable networks (at least the ones not already taking orders directly), the broadcast network news divisions, the major national dailies.

Part of it is the language, the speech code, but equally important is the basic issue of when the program will face actual difficulties. If the Bush plan calls for 40% benefit cuts those are cuts. But if the current benefit levels will in fact never be paid, then cuts aren't really cuts, right?

Look through the various transcripts of background briefings posted here and elsewhere to see examples of this.

Let's try an example. Let's say a hypothetical Bush plan cuts benefits by 40%. But what if the White House says that as things are going now recipients in a few decades will only get 50% of their benefits. Well then the Bush plan isn't really a 40% cut; it's more like a 10 percentage point increase in benefits. Or maybe there is no Trust Fund. The whole basis of the 1983 reform just doesn't exist. And the $1.8 trillion just doesn't need to be paid back.

You can see where this sort of stuff goes. And it's what's going on right now.

The issue isn't bias. It's just that the media is far more playable than it should be. And the Republicans just play them harder, more systematically, better.

Who's pushing back on the pro-Social Security side? Who's knocking down the new round of flimflam? Might be good if someone did.

Ring the bell!

The first member of the Conscience Caucus bites the dust.

It was only two short weeks ago that Rep. Sherry Boehlert, master of moderation from Upstate New York, was not only in the Caucus. He was on the brink of being Loud and Proud. He told his constituents: "I’ve never been a gambler … I don’t want to gamble with Social Security trust fund moneys. And so I am very, very skeptical of the so-called plans to privatize. And I think a disservice is being done to a great many Americans by sort of sounding the alarm that everything’s going to hell in a hand basket and we’re going to be broke by 2018. That simply is not so."

But look what a change has now been wrought.

Just moments after President Bush got done with his phase-out peroration, he posted this statement on his congressional website: "[President Bush's] message to Congress was clear – we must strengthen Social Security for all Americans – and I couldn’t agree more. As legislators it is our responsibility to debate all proposals from top to bottom. Americans have a right to a safe and secure retirement, and we will protect benefits for retirees and future retirees. It would be a major injustice to all Americans if we don’t act now - the worst thing we can do is nothing at all. Americans deserve the peace of mind of knowing they will receive full benefits for their retirement."

Oh My!

We're still poking around to see what prompted Sherry's change of heart. We just hope it wasn't W's helicopter love. However that may be, it looks like Sherry's a phase-out man after all, or at least for the moment. So he's outta the Conscience Caucus.

But as we'll discuss in posts later this evening, it turns out there's plenty more where he came from.

Uh-oh ... Looks like Rep. Jim McCrey (R) of Louisiana, chairman of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, may be looking over the paperwork to join the Conscience Caucus. The AP says McCrery is now outlining "ideas similar to those supported by many Democrats and said he wants to discuss them with the Bush administration."

I guess that counts as a problem, right?

Maybe the president needs to put in a stop down in Lousiana too.

TPM reader RT did the <$NoAd$>leg work so I'll let him speak for himself ...

From today's LA Times top story, referenced in the Note, an anonymous white house source said:
"White House officials say they are confident that congressional skepticism will dissipate once the president persuades a majority of the public that action is needed to extend the life of the retirement program, a process Bush was scheduled to begin today by taking his Social Security message on the road."
a couple paragraphs later:
"In a significant shift in his rationale for the accounts, Bush dropped his claim that they would help solve Social Security's fiscal problems — a link he sometimes made during last year's presidential campaign. Instead, he said the individual accounts were desirable because they would be "a better deal," providing workers what he said would be a higher rate of return and "greater security in retirement."

A Bush aide, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, was more explicit, saying that the individual accounts would do nothing to solve the system's long-term financial problems."
So, the Bushies claim, "there is a huge crisis and our 'solution' will 'do nothing to solve' it." If this is the same White House source that briefed every other reporter yesterday it is Dan Bartlett.


A bit further down in the piece there's this gem ...

That candid analysis, although widely shared by economists, distressed some Republicans.

"Oh, my God," one GOP political strategist said when he learned of the shift in rhetoric. "The White House has made a lot of Republicans walk the plank on this. Now it sounds as if they are sawing off the board."

Jeeves! Bring me my saw ...

Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates breaks the blacklist and enters the Bamboozlepalooza event as GOP roadies relent at the last minute!

Our favorite local Dakota blog brings you the latest and another phone interview with Coates herself ...

Right out of the box Rep. John Boehner (R), Chairman of House Education and the Workforce Committee, said he was willing and ready to investigate the Armstrong Williams payola affair. Now, it seems, he's decided he'd rather not investigate after all.

More details revealed about the Fargo Forty!

Actually, one detail is that there are apparently 42 of them. But that sort of breaks my rhetorical stride so let's not dwell on that. More interesting is what unites these would-be evildoers who are banned from attending the president's Bamboozlepalooza event today in Fargo.

According to the Fargo Forum: "At least 33 of the 42 people on the list are or have been members of the Fargo-Moorhead Democracy for America Meetup Group." As the Forum describes this cell, "The group is a local progressive organization dedicated to electing fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates in the Fargo/Moorhead area."

No word yet on whether City Commissioner Linda Coates is also a member, public or otherwise, of said "Meetup" organization.