Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As you can imagine, nothing <$Ad$>brings tears of joy to the TPM family more than striking a representative or senator from the rolls of the Fainthearted Faction. In fact, I'm tempted to say talk amongst yourselves, while I take a moment. But I'll press on.

As we said earlier, Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia is out of the Fainthearted Faction. And out with a bang, it turns out.

You can read the constituent letter he's now sending out here (the key passage is on page two).

But the key passage is this one (emphasis in the original) ...

Information to date suggests that the reform proposal supported by the President would finace ISA's [i.e., private accounts] by diverting a portion of the payroll taxes now paid into Social Security. I will oppose any such plan and encourage my colleagues to do the same.

If you have a moment, read the letter itself. It provides a detailed discussion of the policy issues involved, and in one passage even a rather stirring description of what Social Security is and why it's so important.

And if you're one of Rep. Moran's constituents and you think the battle to defend Social Security from the president's phase-out plan is an important one, maybe drop him a line and tell him you appreciate his stand.

Jim Moran out of the Faction? Seems so. More soon.

Say it ain't so! Sen. Landrieu in the Faction. "I’m not saying absolutely, positively ‘no’ to private accounts," she told CQ last <$NoAd$> week.

Could Hillary be next?

The same article says the following ...

Advocates for personal accounts see a small possibility of winning the support of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. Her husband studied the idea while president and has since made public statements suggesting he supports the principle. Sen. Clinton has not publicly wedded herself to either side of the debate. Her office did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

I think that misstates President Clinton's post-presidency statements on Social Security. But however that may be, Hillary hasn't made up her mind? No comment?

Late Update: The email Sen. Clinton is sending out to constituents does seem to suggest she'll oppose the president's phase-out plan. And, myself, I'd be stunned if she ended up voting with the president. But CQ still has her down as a possible.

We thought Blanche Lincoln had left the Fainthearted Faction. <$NoAd$>But it seems like she's not quite ready to give up her membership card after all.

This from the Associated Press today ...

As the Bush Administration readies to bring Social Security to the forefront, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln said that she doesn't support allowing the system's dollars to be invested in private accounts.

"I do not think you can divert payroll taxes into private investment accounts," Lincoln said. "It jeopardizes the solvency of the program for current retirees."

However, Arkansas' senior senator also said that she is not shutting out the idea entirely because that, "is not being fair to the problem."

Blanche Lincoln: Iffy on Social Security, but fair to the problem? Why do Democrats in the Fainthearted Faction feel it necessary to be fair to a policy choice they claim already to have decided is a bad idea?

More on the WaPo's Social Security myopia.

Yesterday we noted the Post's Social Security editorial in which the well-heeled Posties agreed that deep cuts in benefits were surely a good thing and that ...

If workers aren't happy with a pension that, while generous in relation to the living standards of their younger years, feels stingy in relation to their earnings immediately before retirement, they can, if not in the lower brackets, save privately to supplement their Social Security benefit; if healthy, they also can postpone retirement.

This editorial is the sort of historical document <$Ad$>that makes you want to go back and reread each of Mike Lind's books from the early 1990s about politics and political economy -- which is always a good thing to do in any case. But for the moment let's go back to the editorial board's myopia.

The authors observe that recipients, instead of whining about the cuts, should simply save more on their own -- as long as they're "not in the lower brackets."

Now, there aren't that many tax brackets. In fact, if memory serves there are now six federal tax brackets -- 10%, 15%, 25%, 28% 33% and 35%. For next year, the upper three brackets are for joint-filing couples making making $120,000 a year and up and individuals who make over $72,000.

By inference, this must be the class of whiners the Post is addressing since these are the folks who are "not in the lower brackets." Does the Post really think that these high-income earners are the folks this debate is about? Or the folks for whom Social Security represents a critical component of their retirement security?

Later, the editorialists argue that the "poor" should receive unspecified "special protections" from the benefit cutting.

But does anybody seem like they're left out of this picture? Right, the overwhelming majority of Americans in those lower three brackets who spend their lifetimes making middle-class wages -- Bill Clinton's folks who 'work hard and play by the rules.'

They aren't 'poor'. So they wouldn't qualify for the "special protections" (i.e., old age welfare) that the Post advises. And they rely on the Social Security they've been paying into all their lives as a key protection against having to become poor in their retirement years.

They're just not in the Post's field of vision.

Here is one of many comparisons and observations we'll be making to provide some counterweight to the White House's efforts to deceive the American people about Social Security.

The Social Security Trustees estimate that over the next 75 years the program faces a budget shortfall of $3.7 trillion.

As we've noted previously and will again, the Trustees use a very pessimistic estimate of future economic growth to arrive at that figure. But, for the moment, let's stipulate to that amount.

$3.7 trillion is a lot of money.

But how much will the president's Medicare drug benefit plan cost over the next 75 years?

$8.1 trillion, say the Trustees of that program.

And over the next 75 years how much will the president's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts cost if made permanent, as the president wants?

$11.6 trillion.

So you add that up and you get $3.7 trillion we need to cover Social Security's shortfall and $19.7 trillion we need just to cover the costs of the two major domestic policy initiatives of the president's first term.

And yet Social Security, says the president, is in crisis and destined to chew through the rest of the federal budget.

(These statistics are noted in this budgeting summary from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)

I would submit to you that in any reasonable universe this simple comparison shatters the president's credibility on fiscal 'icebergs' and spending crises. And yet these basic facts seem to garner little notice.

That is because, in the last couple decades, in the culture of Washington -- particularly among the elite commentators and reporters (just watch Meet the Press) -- presuming that Social Security is financially unviable has become an ready shorthand for public policy seriousness, much as many use a basic knowledge of imported wines or a familiarity with classical music to signal refinement.

This is something the president is exploiting. And the defenders of Social Security must find ways to overcome it.

The Hill on House Democrats placing pressure on Fainthearted Faction member Collin Peterson of Minnesota. This article, meanwhile, notes that the big committee-assignment loser this year in the Wisconsin delegation was Faction member Ron Kind.

On the other side of the aisle, among others, we're watching Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, a member of the Shays Handful.

The rest of the Republicans from Missouri are either endorsing the Bush phase-out plan or suggesting they're inclined to support it. But Emerson is, conspicuously, doing neither. "We ought to get the budget back in balance and restrain spending, quit spending money like drunken sailors, and then look at where Social Security is when we’ve done that," she told the Associated Press.

#8 on Jim Cramer's list of ten business predictions for the coming year (in New York magazine ...)

8. The president will ram Social Security “reform” through Congress by getting brokerage houses to lobby for the change.
George Bush will promise Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Schwab, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns the contract to privatize Social Security and let them be the administrators of the project. These firms will then get their employees to give millions to politicians who are on the fence. Their stocks will triple in value from the prospect of the new business, they’ll pressure the Republican-led Congress for swift passage in the fall of 2005, and the deal will get done.

Certainly, part of the plan.

The Washington Post editorial board buys into the Social Security 'crisis' logic; then opts for the Goldilocks middle path. Broderism ascendent?

A special moment from the Post editors on learning to love inflation indexing ...

"If workers aren't happy with a pension that, while generous in relation to the living standards of their younger years, feels stingy in relation to their earnings immediately before retirement, they can, if not in the lower brackets, save privately to supplement their Social Security benefit; if healthy, they also can postpone retirement."

James Glassman rattles off the standard Social Security phase-out claptrap, but along the way does us the service of telling us what he really thinks: "Social Security stinks."

And why wouldn't you take the word of the guy who wrote Dow 36,000?