Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I want you to meet some friends of ours.

We call them the Fainthearted-Faction. They're the thirteen Democrats who look most likely to go wobbly when President Bush comes a'courting, asking for votes to phase out Social Security.

But first a bit of history.

I was recently reminded that back in 2001 there was something called the Filner Amendment. Without getting too bogged down in the details, this was a proxy vote on Social Security 'privatization'. Specifically, it aimed to "prohibit funds for the purpose of implementing the final report" of the President's Social Security Commission (i.e., privatization).

It turned out pretty much a party line vote. But not entirely.

Twenty Democrats voted against it.

The good news -- if of, shall we say, a rather painful sort and the kind one can only survive so much of -- is that six of those representatives aren't in the 109th congress -- for reasons ranging from defeat to retirement to felony conviction. And one has become a Republican -- Ralph Hall of Texas. But that still leaves 13 members who are already on the slippery slope to Boydville.

They are ...

Dennis Moore
Tom Allen
Marion Berry
Allen Boyd
Robert "Bud" Cramer
Ron Kind
James Moran
Collin Peterson
Adam Schiff
Adam Smith
Ike Skelton
John Tanner
Gene Taylor

I might note that one of those no longer in the congress is Tim Roemer, member of the 9/11 commission, and now an aspirant to head the DNC.

I'm a fan of Roemer's, though not necessarily a supporter of his for the DNC post. But I imagine he's going to have to really 'refine' his stance on this issue if he wants to have even the slightest chance of winning that contest.

More generally, opposition to phasing out Social Security, per se, is not the only grounds to persuade members of the Fainthearted-Faction to come to their senses on this issue. There's also the rather powerful argument of fiscal sanity. Putting the nation another two trillion dollars into debt over the next decade when we're already laboring under very large structural deficits is more than a little foolish. And most members of the Faction are fiscally conservative. So that's a promising appeal.

Finally, we've decided to put our own Social Security 'where do they stand' database together at TPM. And we're going to be getting help from some others who've already started doing this work separately from us. But we'll need volunteers to help collect and organize the data. Are you interested in getting involved? Let us know.

Steve Rosenthal profiled today by John Harwood in the Wall Street Journal. Rosenthal, Harwood writes, "suggests Democrats place the five closest states from the previous general election (Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) first in the 2008 primary calendar to help tune up for fall battles."

That sounds like a damn good idea to me.

Wow! From the AP: "The head of the state Democratic Party said late Tuesday that recount results from King County give Democrat Christine Gregoire an eight-vote victory in the closest governor’s race in state history."

In its coverage of its new poll, the Washington Post leads with the finding that a bare majority (53%) supports including a private accounts option with Social Security. But the totality of this poll is, I would say, fairly encouraging. When a price tag is put to the plan, support drops down to 46%, with 47% opposed. Further down we find that the number of people who think there is a "crisis" in the Social Security system is a mere 25%, down from 34% six years ago.

And there's one final tidbit in there which may be more encouraging to those who want to keep the Social Security program than it seems on the surface. While either 53% or 46% support including a private accounts option, 62% say they would not take the private account option themselves.

"Of those who said they would make such investments," continues the Post, "only 7 percent said they would put "all" their contributions into the market, while 57 percent said 'some' and 23 percent answered 'just a little.'"

Here's why that's a big deal.

A clear majority wants real Social Security for themselves, even if many people want the accounts option for others. Only 37% would opt for the accounts option. And even most of them don't seem altogether enthusiastic about it -- as evidenced by their not wanting to invest as much as they might in the option.

But the thing is, if private accounts are a bad idea, they're a really, really bad idea for people who don't want to use them. Pulling money out of Social Security to fund private accounts will sharply accelerate the stresses already on the system -- a system a clear majority of voters appears to want to enjoy when they retire.

This poll is a road map for supporters of Social Security on how to frame their arguments.

"Long range changes need to be made" to Social Security to insure benefits can be paid. Did you know that? And with the baby boom generation about to double the number of seniors "changes will need to be made to Social Security" to keep the program solvent. And "most experts agree the sooner those changes are made the less they are going to cost." Did you know that? Or how about the fact that "some people mistakenly think there’s a special account" with their funds in it?

Just some of helpful facts you can learn about Social Security when you listen to the "on hold" recording while waiting to speak with someone at the Social Security administration.

Lots of new news on the Franklin-AIPAC espionage story from the JTA -- new details involving CBS reporter Adam Ciralsky, and how Franklin was flipped by the FBI and helped "set up a sting against AIPAC" as well as "initiating contact with some neoconservative defense experts, several of them Jewish, who supported Ahmad Chalabi ... [and] Chalabi’s political adviser," Francis Brooke.

This piece is lengthy, detailed and a must-read.

It's good to be da king ...

(Sam Rosenfeld on today's press conference)

The president got a tad petulant when fielding questions on Social Security. His emphatic response to any and all queries about his position on the subject was an indignant, righteous refusal to answer: “You’re not going to get me to negotiate with myself,” he repeatedly told the perplexed reporters. “I know what you’re trying to get me to do. You’re trying to get me to answer ‘Why this,’ ‘why that,’ to take positions -- don’t bother to ask me.” Rather than merely dodge the questions, Bush seemed intent on staking out an explicit, principled position in favor of dodging the question. There may have been a method to this madness above and beyond Bush’s stated explanation that “Congress writes legislation” <$NoAd$> and therefore he, as the president, shouldn’t be setting specific guidelines for a Social Security reform proposal. The president isn’t usually a big separation-of-powers, checks-and-balances kind of guy.

[Note to White House: Might be time to add a fifth stock answer.]

A reader writes in the following ...

re: Allen Boyd, I think it's a mistake to first assume that we can't convince him on the merits of the issue, rather than trying to intimidate him into submission.

I don't assume that. In fact, I would say that it would be foolish for anyone to commit themselves to voting Boyd out of office or punishing him in any way at all. I would say simply that anyone in Boyd's district who believes in Social Security should commit themselves to vote only for candidates who vote to keep Social Security.

Boyd has plenty of time to decide whether or not he qualifies.

I think Boyd's fellow Democrats have a very strong case to make to him on Social Security, both on the substance and the politics. If the issue were abortion or gay rights or guns, it would be foolish to think that Boyd is going to adopt the positions of Democrats from the coasts, given that he comes from a district that is very culturally red. But I simply don't buy the idea -- frankly, I can't imagine that anyone does -- that Social Security is a program that culturally conservative rural voters just won't abide.

As Ed Kilgore has been saying in a slightly different context, Democrats need to put much more focus as a party on persuasion. But as any sensible hawk knows, diplomacy is seldom truly effective without a credible threat of force backing it up. And that's all I'm recommending.

Nick Confessore has an important post here about why losing a few House seats by punishing reps. who agree to phase out Social Security wouldn't be the end of the world. Frankly, I doubt anyone will lose their seats. I think the process will change their minds before it comes to that. But if a few fall, so be it. The Democrats are in the minority. (Washington Dems should take a moment to absorb that.) Gaining or losing a few seats won't change much either way. What will change things is recasting the issue map in a way that can securely propel the Dems back into the majority. Read Nick's piece.