Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

He's not out of the Faction yet. But he's awfully close.

From what we'd gleaned in news reports and from his communications with constituents, Alabama's Bud Cramer looked like he might be the president's best bet after Rep. Allen Boyd to go along with a Social Security phase-out bill.

But an article by Shelby G. Spires in this morning's Huntsville Times sure paints a different picture.

"I do not support (Bush's Social Security plan) in its current form at all, and I would have to see a lot of details to convince me ... There's not enough substance to the White House's proposal that would show how this will work."

Cramer, says the Times, "won't rule out working with the Bush administration on the issue, but cautioned that it would have to be a different plan."

Further down into the piece Cramer expresses concerns about current retirees, tax and spending issues, and what the administration would do if the stock market went south. He never expresses clear opposition to a private-accounts-based phase-out plan, as such, and he's left the door open for the president.

But he seems a lot less likely to side with the president today than he did yesterday.

It took us a while. And we had to work through the by-laws of the Fainthearted Faction as well as the methodological guidelines our jury has developed. But after careful consideration and some argument we've decided that Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California should be removed from the Fainthearted Faction.

As you probably recall, on January 7th, Sen. Feinstein issued a statement to the press in which she said: "I strongly oppose private accounts, which could cost $1 trillion or more and still fail to improve the financial condition of Social Security. Unless I see a proposal that protects the fiscal health of Social Security and does not dramatically increase the national debt, I will continue my opposition."

Now, there was some question and controversy over whether the second clause of the first sentence qualified or merely elaborated on the first. And there were some related questions raised about the precise meaning of the second sentence.

In the end, though, we decided not to be overly talmudic about the matter. So while a very lawyerly interpretation of Feinstein's statement might still reveal some latent Faintheartedness, we've decided that the general thrust of her statement, along with this reference to her opposition in the San Francisco Chronicle, warrants her removal.

You can see the newly updated Fainthearted Faction roll here, as well as the updated roll of the Conscience Caucus, which has a new addition.

Two sets of information that will be worth connecting.

Last week Ruy Teixeira posted a list of twenty-five "high-risk Republican districts" --- "Colorado 7; Connecticut 2, 4, and 5; Delaware AL; Florida 10 and 22; Illinois 10; Iowa 1 and 2; Kentucky 3; Nevada 3; New Hampshire 2; New Jersey 2, 3, and 4; New Mexico 1; New York 3, 13, and 25; Pennsylvania 6, 7, 8, and 15; and Washington 8."

Then there's this page at the Social Security Administration website we brought to your attention yesterday which provides extremely detailed information on the size and demographic profile of Social Security recipients by congressional district.

Late Update: I spoke too soon. Or, rather, I guess, too late. Steve Soto's already put together the whole thing.

Another red-state member of Congress <$NoAd$>signs in to the Conscience Caucus: Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

From Thursday's Herald-Dispatch ...

The state’s lone Republican member of Congress said no one solution exists for reforming Social Security.

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito expressed those thoughts during a Wednesday afternoon meeting with The Herald-Dispatch editorial board. The hour-long discussion covered an array of issues including Iraq, the economy and Social Security reform.

Capito said there are no easy fixes for Social Security and that she has not committed to any one solution, including President George Bush’s privatization plan that includes personal savings accounts.

"I have said that I would look at that as possible solution for a younger worker on a voluntary basis, but I don’t know if that’s the solution," she said. "I’m not in one camp or in another, but I think if we don’t face this now, we’re going to face it down the road."

The third-term Congresswoman was unsure when or if any final Social Security reform would pass both the House and Senate.

"There are a lot of proposals out on the table, and I’ve said repeatedly I will look at fixes to the problem, but I’m not going to be looking at a fix that will raise our taxes, that will lower our benefits and that will raise our retirement age," she said.

Sounds like she's on the fence, Karl.

Is Grassley iffy?

Here's a report by Matt Kelley from the RadioIowa website ...

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is negotiating with members of both parties to find a way to keep Social Security afloat without cutting benefits or raising the retirement age. After a one-on-one meeting last week with President Bush on the subject, Grassley says he's working with the administration and other members of Congress to find a solution that'll succeed. Grassley, a republican, says he can't yet reveal details of his proposal. Grassley says "If I do, it's kinda' like showing your hand too early. It's a negotiating process and I think we need to just reserve judgment on almost every aspect of it. Tax increase or no tax increase. Private accounts or no private accounts." President Bush hosts a forum at the White House today on Social Security. It will include people from several generations talking about troubles in the system. Grassley says there's no easy fix. Grassley says "There's just dozens of moving parts and it's not so much what you're for or against but how does doing something over here effect something someplace else in the equation." Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says he's treading carefully in the Social Security reform negotiations. Grassley calls it the "most politically-sensitive issue we can deal with ever" and he's trying to remain flexible. President Bush says Social Security will go broke by the time Baby Boomers retire, but critics says it should stay afloat well into the middle of this century and they accuse Bush of exaggerating the problems.

And here's a report from the field <$NoAd$> from TPM reader Susan N. ...

In a meeting yesterday in Charles City, many of the questions were about Social Security. Senator Grassley did not take a position, citing a need to remain open-minded because of his position on the Finance Committee. He did recite the demographics in support of the argument that Something Must Be Done, but declined to say what he thought the Something should be. I heard: keeping the powder dry until the constituents weigh in. He's doing a bunch of meetings this week in Iowa, he says. This guy is as conservative as they come, but a very savvy politician. Lots of his constituents are older, and he has been strong on cleaning up nursing homes and other issues that affect them. In response to questions about immigration and something Vicente Fox supposedly said, Grassley said that the good news is that Vicente Fox doesn't have a vote in Congress. The questioner pointed out Bush's support of amnesty for certain illegal immigrants, and Grassley muttered that Bush doesn't have a vote in Congress either, to much laughter. It's not just Democrats we need to work on. Lots of us blue people live in red states with conservative representatives who have doubts about the wisdom of private accounts.


Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota: "The scheme adjusts benefit levels based on consumer price indexing rather than wage indexing. This would leave beneficiaries with a smaller annual cost of living adjustment, or COLA, at a time when Medicare premiums are skyrocketing at nearly 17 percent per year. These changes and the resulting benefit cuts would apply to everyone, even people who chose not to set up a private account. Such a plan essentially results in a steep 'retirement tax' on all seniors. Such a plan is not 'reform' and it will not 'strengthen' Social Security."

Harold Meyerson: "The fabricated crisis is the hallmark of the Bush presidency."

As Hillel might have said, all the rest is commentary. But good commentary.