Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Sen. Reid says that Senate Faction is no more?

Key passages from the early afternoon update from CQ Today that has the Hill atwitter ...

Not a single Senate Democrat will support President Bush’s proposal to divert a portion of the Social Security payroll tax to personal investment accounts, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday.

If he is right, Bush’s plan will be dead on arrival in the Senate, where a supermajority of 60 votes will be needed to overcome a filibuster by opponents. Republicans have 55 seats.


“We want to make sure that the American people understand that we’re not for benefit cuts and we’re not for privatization,” Reid said. “There’s no crisis in Social Security.”


Reid said he had private commitments from all 44 Senate Democrats that they would not support diverting payroll tax revenues into private accounts, the key facet of Bush’s plan. The Democratic staff on the Senate Finance Committee has come to the same conclusion, based on polling Democratic members and their staffs.

Some Senate Democrats, including Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have said publicly they are open to considering a Social Security overhaul, including personal accounts, though they have not committed themselves either way. But “add-on” personal accounts, which a number of Republicans also favor, would supplement Social Security benefits and would not draw from payroll tax revenues for financing — keeping these senators within their pledges to Reid.

When you add in the Loud and Proud <$NoAd$> Snowe and Specter, plus the almost-sure-to-defect Chafee, 50 votes in the Senate looks like a challenge in itself ...

Rep. Gene Taylor (D) of Mississippi, standing tall, walks right out of the Faction. We don't have a 'Loud and Proud!' category for Democrats opposing President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan. But if we did, Rep. Taylor would be in it today.

Take a look at the new statement up today on Rep. Taylor's website.

I'll see your mumbo and raise you a jumbo: President releases unofficial dates for bamboozlepalooza tour ...

THURSDAY: Fargo, ND; Great Falls, MT, Omaha, NE.

FRIDAY: Little Rock, AR, Tampa, FL.

Look at who represents the Tampa area, read this article, look at the Conscience Caucus and then tell me whether Sen. Nelson (D) has anything to do with the president's trip to Florida.

Late Update: This Florida blogger, who knows the terrain, provides more details.

Yep, I think we've got another Loud and Proud Republican on our hands.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Rep. Don Young (R) of Alaska "ridiculed the president's assertions about a Social Security crisis" in a "wide-ranging interview session with Alaska reporters in his House office" on Monday. And just two days before the release of the president's new Social Security speech code no less!

Later down in the piece comes the following ...

Young scoffed at President Bush's claims that Social Security needs an immediate fix.

"We do have a slight problem," he said. "I think there's a possibility of a problem 45 years from now."

And Young said he remained "very unsold" on Bush's solutions to privatize Social Security.

"I'm not overly confident the average American knows how to invest in stocks," he said. "I don't want Wall Street involved in this."

Young said he would support making current individual retirement accounts more attractive through tax-law changes.

You kinda get the sense he's not on <$NoAd$>board with phase-out, right?

[ed.note: A special note of thanks to TPM reader DD for the tip.]

The latest from the Center for American Progress ...

From the people who bring you The Progress Report – the daily electronic newsletter the National Review calls "the most aggressive, most energetic opposition research in politics" – comes Thinkprogress.org, a new blog ready to revolutionize the world of research-intensive rapid response. Debuting in tandem with the State of the Union address on Feb. 2, Thinkprogress.org will give journalists and the public real-time access to American Progress’s highly regarded rapid response operation for the first time ever. And in honor of the launch, American Progress CEO John Podesta will be a guest blogger, providing live commentary throughout the entire State of the Union address.

That should be <$NoAd$>interesting.

With less than 36 hours before the president kicks off his bamboozlepalooza tour, the turmoil and turnover within the Fainthearted Faction continues to grow.

The first news comes in a piece from the New York Times titled '6 Key Democratic Senators Oppose Bush Plan on Benefits.'

On first glance, the title seems to signal a veritable Fainthearted Faction Monday Night Massacre. But while the content isn't nearly so dramatic, the piece nonetheless contains some important news.

The lead graf reads: "Six of the seven Democratic senators from the states where President Bush plans to campaign this week for his Social Security plan say they are unalterably opposed to his main principle of diverting tax money into personal investment accounts." And then later down in the piece: "If Mr. Bush cannot win the support of these Democratic senators from states where he is politically strong, it may indicate that he cannot provide the political cover that many Republican lawmakers say they will need if they are to take the political risk of voting for the president's plan."

The question is, which senators are they talking about? Four of them are Sens. Baucus, Dorgan, Nelson of Florida and Pryor. And they aren't in the Faction to start with. The seventh is Sen. Nelson of Nebraska "who said in an interview [with the Times] that he could not make a commitment on Social Security until he saw the specifics of the president's plan."

So that leaves him where we have him now -- in the Faction, but with OFO status.

The two final ones are Sens. Conrad and Lincoln.

Conrad was only barely in the Faction and only entered a few days ago. He tells the Times: "I will not be part of the unraveling the commitment of Social Security based on gutting the benefits and hoping the stock market makes up the difference and funding the transition with borrowing."

That, combined with the Times' characterization of the whole interview, and the only slight signs of Faintheartedness which got Conrad into the Faction, now takes him out.

From Sen. Lincoln, the Times got: "I'm opposed to what the president presumably wants to do. It puts in jeopardy a program that is vital to the people of Arkansas and is misleading to the young people about what they're going to end up with."

Based on the that and the totality of earlier evidence, she's out of the Faction too.

That leaves a winnowed down Senate Fainthearted Faction of four, including Nelson of Nebraska. The other three are Carper, Landrieu and Lieberman.

We haven't heard much from Carper recently.

Lieberman has had almost two feet out the door ever since his appearance on The Daily Show back on the 20th of last month. His comments on Social Security to Jon Stewart all but took him out of the Faction. But given the venue and the nature of the remarks combined with Lieberman's earlier history of recidivist Faintheartedness on phase-out, we've had something of a vexed internal debate about Lieberman's standing in the Faction.

What we decided was that we would wait for one more statement of opposition to phase-out from Sen. Lieberman, at which point he would be automatically removed from the Faction. We spoke to his office this morning and apparently the Daily Show remarks are still his most recent. So for the moment, he stays.

That leaves us with Sen. Landrieu of Louisiana. At the moment, she appears to be the senate Democrat most wedded to membership in the Fainthearted Faction, having not even given hints of imminent withdrawal. One of our most prized TPM readers is a retiree from Landrieu's home state and she's been trying for weeks now to get an answer from the senator's office about where she stands on phase-out. Finally, this week, she was able to get hold of someone in Landrieu's office who could speak to the issue. And the senator's position, she was told, is that she hasn't yet taken a position.

Our text of the day today comes from yesterday's CongressDaily PM ...

Wednesday's State of the Union speech and the subsequent unveiling of the Social Security plan will also provide Republicans with the first major test of the media and message strategies that have been developed for the Social Security debate. At the center of the GOP pitch is a language "branding" plan that Republicans hope will undercut Democratic criticism of Republican plans. For instance, the GOP has been pushing to move from describing the investment accounts as "private," preferring to use "personal," which they believe is less loaded politically. Similarly, Santorum said Friday he preferred to avoid calling costs associated with the creation of the accounts "transitional," favoring the use of "prepaying." A senior GOP Senate aide acknowledged that both of these semantic changes are part of the party's broader strategy to reframe the Social Security debate.

So there you have it, <$NoAd$> the president's State of the Union address is to be dedicated in large part to promulgating the new Social Security speech code already in evidence from Republicans over recent weeks.

The question is, how will this be reported?

And which news outlets will simply adopt the speech code either out of deference to the president or inherent simpletonian tendencies?

Pick your talking head, grab your notepad and get ready to jot.

In his Tuesday column, Paul Krugman hits the big question that shames every reporter who hasn't posed it to the president or whichever other privatizers they can finagle a minute with. It's as simple as this: the privatizers base their predictions about privatization on a 21st century of robust economic growth while they foretell Social Security's bleak future based on a 21st century of anemic economic growth -- a classic apples and oranges comparison which, if anyone were paying attention, would stop the whole debate in its tracks.

If you're not Tim Russert, read the column. If you are, hang your head in shame, buy an abacus and then go read Krugman.

This new article in the St. Petersburg Times chronicles the sorrows and sufferings of Florida's Republican congressional delegation. The article, somewhat surprisingly, places Rep. Bill Young (R) in the Conscience Caucus -- and we've followed their lead.

"I'm not going to support anything that makes Social Security subject to the stock market," said Young. "I have always been very careful to make a decision regardless of politics. I don't think a decision should be made based on whether you support the president or don't support the president."

The article goes on to note that even Rep. Clay Shaw (R) is now claiming he "wants Congress to find a way to add investment accounts without using Social Security," in the words of the Times reporter.

We remain skeptical that Shaw is so far off the reservation. But apparently this truly is a time of testing since Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R) declined even to comment for the story, thus placing himself into that distinguished fraternity of congressional worthies who pass on press attention.

The really rich prose in the Times piece, however, is reserved for Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R), who's keeping up her performance art routine as the fairer-sex Hamlet of west-central Florida, agonizing -- to paraphrase the Times -- over whether to 'tis nobler to serve the interests of thy constituents or "allegiance to the Republican agenda."

We keep hearing that Brown-Waite is stiffing constituents who are trying to find out where she stands on phasing out Social Security. So, as in the case of Montana, we have to ask: will Brown-Waite be travelling or appearing with the president in Florida?

Will she be endorsing his phase-out plan?

How about Reps. Harris, Shaw and Young?

[ed.note: Are you represented by Rep. Brown-Waite? Do you live in Florida's 5th congressional district? If so, drop us a line.]