Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A few thoughts on where we are right now on the phase-out debate.

The president has hit a brick wall on his first attempt at beginning the phase out of Social Security. If you look at how the debate has evolved over the last six weeks and why the public is turning against the president's plan, you see that it has become increasingly clear to the public that private accounts damage Social Security.

Simple as that.

It takes money out of Social Security -- an extremely popular program -- and puts it toward creating the president's private accounts. You can't be for protecting or strengthening Social Security and also be for private accounts since the two goals are diametrically opposed, inimical to each other.

So it makes sense to call it what it is, a raid on Social Security. Not a raid on the Trust Fund as folks used to bandy about in the last decade. But snaking money out of Social Security itself.

That is still the president's preferred policy. And the public is turning against it.

So what is there to talk about as long as that is the case? The Democrats are for preserving Social Security; the president is for partially (or eventually totally) phasing it out and replacing it with private investment accounts and reduced guaranteed benefits.

The two objectives don't admit of compromise. The solution is to have a full public debate, see who the public supports, and then vote.

The president has the executive branch and both houses of Congress. He can pass what he wants if he can control his Republicans and scrape together a handful of Democrats in the senate.

But what basis could Democrats find on which to compromise as long as the president won't commit to maintaining and strengthening Social Security in its current form rather than partially phasing it out?

Going to the Bamboozlepalooza event tomorrow in either Indiana or New Jersey? We want to hear about it. Admittedly, if you're a TPM Reader going to an event probably means standing outside and protesting like most regular Americans who aren't among the phase-out elect. But let us know what you see. And if you take pictures, send us those too.

Noam Scheiber is dead right about the White House's new roundabout plans to phase out Social Security.

Read what he has to say.

There are many issues to discuss now that we've entered into a main phase of the Social Security battle -- one in particular will be to keep a close eye on Cato, Club for Growth and the rest of the money lobby to see how well they warm to the idea of the tax increases the president is now floating as a way to pay for his plan. But the first thing to do is to focus and understand where the Democrats are in this debate and what they are after, and for all of them to resolve that it really doesn't matter whether President Bush tries the front door to phase-out or the back door or whether he tries to break through the window or even just burn down the whole house. The goal is what counts. And the question is just what it is that people don't like about Social Security in its current form.

President Bush kicked off this struggle by trying to raid Social Security (not the Trust Fund, but the program itself) of a third of its funding to set up his private accounts. Having hit a brick wall with the Democrats and numerous defections from Republicans, he's now looking for a second roll of the dice. He'll now try to bargain with more options on the table, perhaps offering to phase out less of Social Security or -- and this is more likely -- extend the time over which the program is phased out.

But the goal is the same: phase-out. In that sense nothing has changed.

The White House whips Frist into line. Majority Leader commits to a phase-out bill this year, after having said the opposite only two days ago.

CQ provides Frist's feeble denial that he was manhandled by the White House: "I haven’t talked to anybody ... I said it could be a month or a year. From that, everybody was saying it’s going to be more than a year. I wanted to make it clear I’m going to be aggressive with it and it will be coming up this year."

A note to pro-Social Security Oregonians: keep an eye on your senior senator. And, yes, Wyden (elected: 1/30/1996) was elected before Smith (elected: 11/05/96).

White House enlists nation's bakeries <$NoAd$> in push for Social Security phase-out!

Last Thursday the White House invited representatives of various industries to a White House meeting with Karl Rove and National Economic Council Director Allan B. Hubbard, where the two gave a pep talk and outlined strategy for phasing out Social Security.

At the meeting was a representative of the Independent Bakers Association, who sent the following release to Association members providing an account of the meeting and explaining the bakers' role in the battle for phase-out ...

Contact: Jan Cornelius
Tel 202.xxx.xxxx
[ed.note: number removed by editor]

February 24, 2005


Today, IBA staff attended a White House briefing addressing President George W. Bush's ambitious plan to overhaul the Social Security system. The Honorable Karl Rove, Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President and the Honorable Al Hubbard, Assistant to the President and Director of the National Economic Council gave the briefing.

Karl Rove stressed the importance of Social Security reform on the President's domestic agenda. He said that the President felt in his soul that Social Security reform is vital for the future of the United States. He stressed the now well known fact that in the 1930s, when the program began, 16 people paid into the system to support one retiree, now 3.3 people support one retiree. The trend of more people paying into the system for each retiree will soon lead the nation into bankruptcy. Rove reported that the President wanted to solve the problem, not with half measures, but permanently, without raising payroll taxes.

Karl went on to say that the President will commit all his resources to fighting this issue. The President already visited nine states in his effort to bring about Social Security reform and he will remain on the road to spread the message. The President knows he will get opposition for the trade unions and left wingers. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is still on the fence and supports some measures but not others. The President is willing to fight his opponents in this regard, including the AARP if they decide to oppose him.

Finally, Mr. Rove appealed to IBA to help educate the public about the challenges facing Social Security.

Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, reiterated the Administration's position on Social Security reform by saying we are totally committed. He likened the President's enthusiasm for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to his position on saving Social Security. The Administration is worried about Social Security because the cost of doing nothing is immense. According to the government's research, the system will go from this year's surplus of $5.9 billion to no surplus in 2018 to a -$200 billion deficit in 2027! Al noted that the President could easily not tackle the Social Security issue, after all the system will only go into deficit in 2018. However, the President is dedicated to 'tackling the big problems facing America. Most Presidents wouldn't deal with such a contentious issue.

The Administration will try to fix the problem in three ways. One, inform the nation about the magnitude of the problem. Two, lobby Congress to get behind the plan. Three, stay open minded to solutions. The President realizes that Social Security reform is a difficult task and he is encouraging lawmakers for both sides of the aisle to work to come up with lasting solutions to this problem. Possible solutions include personal retirement accounts, however, higher taxes are not a solution.

The Administration will stick to three principals through the reform process. One, create a permanent fix to the problem. Two, no benefit changes for those born before 1950. Three, no payroll tax increases.

Mr. Hubbard reports that Social Security reform is the most important problem facing the nation. It affects all businesses and everyone's back pocket. He closed his prepared remarks by saying that the President is taking on this task because it is the right thing to do for America. The President does not view this as a political fight as many on the left do.

In a question and answer session Mr. Hubbard addressed the apparent wedge between the President and Republican lawmakers on this issue. He said that all Republicans he talked to support reforming Social Security and he downplayed reports to the contrary in the leftist media. As far as a timeline goes, the President began pushing for reform at the State of the Union Address and will continue his pressure on Congress to get bills out of each House by August. After Social Security reform the Administration is committed to reforming Medicare and Medicaid and tax reform.

More reporting soon on the dark underbelly of Bamboozlepalooza ...