Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The Night of the Long Gavels continues!

A couple weeks back we brought you the news of the recent purge of non-DeLay-lieutenants from the House Ethics Committee and their replacement with a slate of pliant toadies.

Now, according to this story in CQ Today, new Chairman Doc Hastings' first order of business was to fire two top members of the committee's professional staff --- Staff Director and Chief Counsel John Vargo as well as spokesman and counsel Paul Lewis.

Pioneering new ground in understatement, Hastings (R) of Washington told the remaining committee staff he is “headed in another direction.” And apparently there may be more firings to follow.

In the spirit of the moment, might we suggest that there may be some out-of-work former DeLay aides back in Texas who are available for the new jobs?

Gov. Rendell (D) of Pennsylvania leaving the Fainthearted Faction?

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland trying to move in on TPM's turf?!?!

In today's edition of The Hill, Hans Nichols reports that Hoyer says he's counted 29 House Republicans who oppose "all or major parts of President Bush’s plan."

Of course, the House Conscience Caucus currently includes only 20 members, nine shy of Hoyer's magic 29. But then we've been tightening the requirements.

So we'll be checking into this ...

President Bush is trying to sell America on a plan that will cost several trillion dollars (the lower estimates are for ten years, before the big bills come due), cut future benefits by as much as 46% for today's children and pull more money out of Social Security.

There is great public interest and notice. Many people are worried, in most cases with good reason. And yet the president says again and again that he won't say just what he wants to do to Social Security.

When a reporter asked him about this at the conversation in the White House yesterday, he said this ...

"The tendency in Washington is, ‘OK, Mr. President, you play your cards now and we’ll decide if we’re going to play ours. I’m not going to do that. I’m keeping them close to the vest."

Shouldn't there be some pressure on this guy to just come clean? To say what he wants to do?

Sure, yes, there's legislative politicking and making the first move and all that. But this goes a bit beyond that. The president is pushing this. This is all about him. Absent initiative from him, replacing Social Security with private accounts wouldn't even be on the agenda. Though the policy has some ardent Republican supporters, the impetus all comes from him.

When you brush away all the legislative gobbledygook and beltway jockeying, you have a president who wants to put what is probably the most popular government program in American history under the knife and he won't even say what he wants to do to it.

Shouldn't his critics just be saying over and over: level with the public? Tell them what you want to do to Social Security.

At the moment, for all to see, the president doesn't have the numbers in Congress to move any phase-out bill. He's got only one Democrat clearly on his side -- the poltroonish Allen Boyd -- and at least a couple dozen Republicans who aren't ready to phase out Social Security.

So Tuesday he tried <$Ad$> another approach: going directly to local press in critical districts and states around the country, trying to sell phase-out. The president sat down for an hour long group interview in the Oval Office with reporters from regional papers, each from areas with high concentrations of retirees. They included the Tennessean (Nashville), the Orange County Register, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), the Birmingham News (Alabama) and the New Haven Register.

(Note that the president is having real problems with Republicans in Tennessee and Alabama.

Another target was Iowa. When asked about benefit cuts, according to the Times reporter from the Quad City Times, President Bush "appeared to suggest ... that the scheduled rate of increase in Social Security benefits is not in step with reality."

This is the coming tactic, which has already been the focus of a lot of press push-back, to simply say that the current scheduled benefit rates are impossible or can't really happen. Thus reducing benefits from those which can't really happen doesn't count as 'cuts'.

Here's how the Quad City Times reporter described that exchange in his follow-up report ...

“Benefit cuts is an interesting word,” Bush said. “Benefits are scheduled to grow at a certain rate, and one of the, one of the suggestions, for example ... was they grow at a, they grow, but not at a rate as fast as projected. You can call it anything you want. I would call it an adjustment to reality,” he said.

The president stressed, though, that he was not expressing a preference for what a Social Security package might include.

“This is one of the many suggestions that people have made,” he said. “I don’t want you to walk away thinking that I am picking one part of the solution mix or not. I’m not.”

Another reporter in the session, William Gibson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, had this take on what the president said ...

Bush said the current system cannot be sustained, and he implied that benefits in the traditional program will have to be scaled back for those born after 1950.

"One of the suggestions, for example, is that they grow but not at a rate as fast as projected," he said. "You can call it anything you want. I would call it an adjustment to reality."

So, big benefit cuts if you're born after 1950 under the president's "adjustment to reality."

One of the big questions about the president's 'over 55 and you're safe' promise is how he can guarantee that when many of those people will be alive thirty or even forty years from now and he wants to pull lots of money out of the system.

Here was his stab at that: "I don't know how you guarantee (benefits for) somebody 30 years from now, but I mean, that is obviously a promise that can be kept and must be kept. When it's all said and done, we'll have to show people how the Social Security system is solvent. Once we can show solvency as a result of a permanent fix, I think people will be more comfortable that the promise will be kept."

Some reporters of course were a bit more fawning than others. The reporter from the Orange County Register, for instance, seemed rather easier to impress. "His brows narrowed and his tone was resolute," writes Dena Bunis, "when he talked about his determination to get this issue resolved during his presidency."

Each of these pieces were distributed widely over the wires.

More to follow ...

As Drudge says tonight, those three CBS execs whose resignations were requested -- they were never received. And why should they tender them? When you're hung out to dry, why go easily if the people hanging you out have dirty hangs too?

Were the highest level people at CBS really not deeply involved in the digging in of heels phase of that whole fiasco? Even after it was clear that the network's reputation was on the line? They didn't get involved? Hard to figure.

I don't know enough yet about the probable suspects behind the Hariri assassination in Lebanon or the precise geopolitical situation that surrounded it. Nor have I had a chance yet to talk to the people whose judgment I trust about this. And given where the pieces were on the chessboard, Damascus or friends of Damascus are certainly under a cloud of suspicion. But it is more than a little unfortunate that I at least find it hard to take at face value anything this administration says about the probable perpetrators. And again, I say that not with any particular knowledge of this situation, but simply on the basis of the track record and the region of the world.

Who will run against this meddlesome congressman?

The St. Petersburg Times profiles the Dean of the Fainthearted Faction, Rep. Allen Boyd (D) of Florida.

I usually think of the Boston Globe as a white hat paper. But certainly not here. They appear to have published one of that unfortunate class of columns in which a non-Jewish scribe tosses around the charge of anti-Semitism as though it were no more than one more ideological brickbat or cudgel to be used -- seemingly absent any real knowledge of the issues being discussed -- in the never-ending pundit street fight. Here Eric Alterman discusses his futile attempts to get the Globe to allow him to respond on the merits to a foolish and shameful column they published which accused him of being an anti-Semite.