Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In what was a sad story, a happy new chapter.

Doris Matsui, widow of longtime California Congressman Robert Matsui, who died on New Year's day after a brief illness, has tonight won a special election to fill his seat. She took just under 72% of the vote.

Matsui, you'll remember, was to have been the House Democrats' point-man in the fight against privatizing Social Security. So far they've honored his memory.

AP: "The heart of President Bush's plan for Social Security, allowing younger workers to create personal accounts in exchange for a lower guaranteed government benefit, is among the least popular elements with the public, Republican pollsters told House GOP leaders Tuesday."

I've always thought of Jack Kemp as sort of a sad figure. As I wrote a few years ago, "Most Republicans know that enterprise zones and other nostrums presented as alternatives to "failed" liberal social policy are window dressing. Kemp's problem is that he takes the window dressing seriously, but none of his GOP colleagues have the heart to tell him."

Now, he's telling the president to put privatization to a party-line vote. Let the Democrats block it. And then take it to the voters in 2006 ...

If the alternative is tax increases, cutting benefits or making people work longer, the country would be much better off if the Democrats filibuster the president's personal-accounts proposal to death this year than if he gives in to their pigheadedness and takes personal accounts off the table. Let the Democrats obstruct passage of personal accounts, if they have the courage, and then let's go to the American people on the matter in the 2006 elections. That's the way democracy works, and we know that whatever the people decide will be right.

This is part of what I mean by no one having the heart to tell him. The alternative is cutting benefits? Private accounts equal cutting benefits. Any fool realizes that. No less a bamboozler than Rep. Allen Boyd says in his own defense today that "[p]ersonal accounts are a way to let <$Ad$> these workers recoup those [benefit cuts] and likely earn even more for retirement than they could under today's system."

In other words, private accounts are a sort of generational consolation prize for having the social compact broken during your lifetime. Heck, if you're lucky, you might even make it all back.

But on the main point, Kemp is right. Take it to the voters. Yes, I think Republicans will regret it. But you can never really know how an election is going to come off or what the results will be. We should take this to voters because that is what Democracy is about. And as much as the president likes to pretend otherwise, this issue never got a serious airing in 2004. This is an issue, if there ever was one, on which the Democrats should have the courage of their convictions.

Two or three months ago, when Democrats set about trying to thwart the president's plan, there was little assurance they'd be successful. As much as the aim was to win, it was to lose well rather than lose badly -- divided, double-crossed and having caved on principle -- if losing it had to be.

With apologies, let me refer back to what I wrote on December 20th ...

The GOP has the White House and solid majorities in both chambers. If they can hold their troops together, they can write the bill, pass it, and sign it into law before anyone gets another chance at the ballot box. But, as important as winning is in this case (and I'm a good deal more optimistic than many of my friends and colleagues seem to be), winning isn't everything.

If Democrats have to lose this, they must be sure to lose well.

Do they spin and shuffle and whine and sputter on about how bad the whole thing is? Or do they make this into a clear choice -- where Democrats support Social Security for a clear set of reasons rooted in values and policy, and Republicans oppose it?

If the lies about the program's unviability are volubly refuted, the party division made clear, and the reasons why Social Security is good for America are ably argued, then let the chips fall where they may. But if it's all tactics, the outmoded bag of tricks and risk-aversion, playing at the margins and wringing of hands, that will truly be unforgivable.

The same goes for 2006. Don't fret. Take it to the people.

From Adriel Bettelheim of CQ Weekly comes this ...

[T]wo months into his second term, Bush is in one of the toughest political binds of his presidency. He has vowed to use the power of his office to upend a cornerstone of the New Deal and adapt it for his “ownership society” to foster a savings culture. Yet he is standing alone on the construction site, forcing opponents and allies alike to wonder if he’s started something he simply can’t finish.

The situation has essentially left Bush with two options: cut a deal quickly to strengthen the system’s finances, but concede some his philosophical principles; or continue to take the flak but slowly build his case for a more far-reaching overhaul, then dare his opponents to resist as the midterm elections of 2006 approach.

The next few weeks will tell which tack the White House will take, and whether Republicans in Congress will go along.


Despite the potential for compromise, there are other signs that Bush and Republican leaders are preparing for a lengthy fight that could spill over into the 2006 election season.

So 2006 it <$NoAd$>is.

Please tell me this isn't a hemorrhoid commercial.

In Rep. Allen Boyd's OpEd piece in today's Tallahassee Democrat, the Dean of the Fainthearted Faction says that private accounts are "preparation, not privatization (emphasis added)."

Two new Social Security plans from Senators Hagel and Bennett, reports the Associated Press. So now there is Tangerine and Strawberry phase-out to be added to plum version the president has already put on the table.

Each raids Social Security to set up private accounts.

Each includes steep cuts in benefits.

Each kicks off phasing out Social Security and replacing it with private accounts.

This is just an intra-Republican conversation about how to best structure phase-out. It can't be of any particular concern or interest to those who don't believe phase-out should happen at all.

Simple Point: Social Security is an insurance program. And the point is not a semantic one. In conventional insurance, the more people participate, the lower the premiums and the more secure the plan. This is particularly so since those who have the least immediate need for the insurance are the most likely to opt out. Just so in Social Security. The more people opt out of the system with private accounts, the greater the costs for those who choose to hold on to their Social Security with its guaranteed benefits. And in this case that translates into either higher taxes or reduced benefits and most likely both. Social Security can only work with near-universal participation.

That is what the push for private accounts is all about. It means the end of Social Security by stages.

(Private health insurance carriers, of course, try to get as many healthy people as possible and as few sick ones, a tactic policy wonks call 'creaming'. But it's the same difference since that only means forcing the costs of the ill off on to government programs like Medicaid or emergency rooms and the like.)

Private Accounts = Ending Social Security. The advocates of private accounts know that. Which Democrats and Republicans will sign on?

David Winston, Republican pollster, Roll Call, March 8th: "Bush, in his State of the Union address, began to lay the predicate for the Social Security discussion. Polling data nearly across the board shows that Bush’s Social Security blitz in the past few weeks has convinced the majority of Americans that Social Security needs fixing now."

CNN/USAToday poll analysis, USAToday, March 2nd: "In early January, Americans divided evenly when asked whether Social Security needs major changes in the next year or two. Now 59% say it doesn't need to be changed right away."