Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Rep. Sherry Boehlert (R) of New York <$NoAd$> demands readmission to the Conscience Caucus!

This morning we received the following note from the congressman ...

Enjoyed your clever and off-times amusing comments. But shame on you for taking anyone to task for talking about our "responsibility to debate all proposals from top to bottom."

My commitment is not to a specific course of action at this juncture other than to acknowledge a future problem and a determination to get going toward the development of a solution. Don't count me out yet!

We're always happy to take our dollop of shame if it means welcoming a representative or senator back into the Conscience Caucus.

We've duly updated the membership list.

From the Butte Montana Standard: "Burns said he's going to 'continue to look at it,' but had questions about how to pay the plan's estimated $2 trillion price tag."

Hmmm. Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas doesn't think "anyone pretends [the president's Social Security plan] solves the long term issue of solvency."

Has he been to DC recently? Seems there's a lot of pretending.

Says the Gov.: "It’s trying to address methods to improve the system and broaden the base of how it is funded."

Coming later, Senator John Warner (R) of Virginia and his letter to the GAO on Social Security and privatization.

If you're in Little Rock or Tampa, you're up. Today's your day. The Bamboozlebooza Tour is coming to town. If you're going to be on hand for the festivities do let us know and let us know what you hear and see. If you've got a blog, even better. There may even be a "Privatize This" T-Shirt in it for you.

Even better, are you on the black-list for today's events in either town? If so and you can prove it, there's a definite shirt in it for you. At the moment, the White House is claiming that the Fargo black-list was the work of an "overzealous volunteer" whose identity they and the local Republican party claim they are nevertheless unable to discover.

We wondered last night whether Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) of Montana had really gotten through all the festivities yesterday without making any mention of his position on the president's phase-out plan. Well, we hear this morning from listeners on the scene that Rehberg made some equivocal comments on the radio. And this passage from today's Missoulian seems to be the closest he got in print ...

Fellow Republicans U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns and Rep. Denny Rehberg, both of Montana, said after the speech they haven't made up their minds on Bush's ideas. Rehberg said the country needs to openly discuss the issue and not kill the opportunity to fix Social Security with partisan bickering.

"The president is trying to create a consensus opportunity," Rehberg said.

Clearly, Rehberg now gets slotted into FIW status in the Caucus. But if I'm not mistaken Bush didn't even get the two Republicans in Montana to sign on to his plan. If you see instances of the national press picking up on this fact rather than going on about Baucus, can you drop us a line about that too?

This isn't about Democrats: The President Is Hunting for Republicans Who Will Go On The Record In Support of His Plan.

Now on to Arkansas and Florida.

As we said we're keen to get reports from the ground in both states. As we told you here at TPM earlier and in more detail in my column this week in The Hill, Tampa is a hotbed of membership in the Conscience Caucus. You've got our favorite Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite to the north, Caucus member Rep. Bill Young right next door, Caucus member Rep. Katherine Harris to the South. And aside from them you've got folks like Rep. Bilirakis (R) who don't even seem willing to discuss the issue with the press and Rep. Adam Putnam (R) who looks likely to shift whichever way the wind blows.

These Floridians all to one degree or another have their fingers in the wind. And if you can't say much else for them they're good weather vanes, especially Rep. Brown-Waite. So if you hear them chatting on the radio or get quoted in the papers or if they get up on stage with the president to testify to their phase-out conversion experience, do let us know.

So basically the president is finding hardly any Republicans in any of these states who are willing to go on the record in support of his plan. This is why I would never make it in the news business. I woulda thought that'd be a big story.

Does Donald Luskin have a problem?

No, this isn't a trick question. C'mon, play along.

On January 31st, Luskin wrote that the "president is seeking to reform Social Security with personal accounts — which, by the way, is the same reform being argued for by Harold Ford, the African American Democratic congressman from Tennessee."

Today, no less a worthy than Rush Limbaugh (R-Elysium) flogged the Harold Ford angle too, perhaps picking it up from Luskin.

Admittedly, Ford was once the Dean of the Fainthearted Faction.

But as far back as December 30th, he announced: "I do not support changing the Social Security system as has been proposed by President Bush, nor do I support Social Security proposals advanced by the CATO Institute. In fact, both of these proposals have the potential to harm current beneficiaries by paying for the transition costs by issuing debt. Piling on more red ink to the existing federal budget deficit and the national debt will do both long and short term harm to our economy. I do believe that the system needs to be reformed but I do not support changing the Social Security system as President Bush has proposed."

Then late last month he went even further to clear up any confusion. According to the Memphis Flyer, in their interview with the congressman, he "den[ied] that he does now, or ever did, advocate tapping payroll taxes to create the accounts."

There's even this passage from the article in question ...

And the congressman was quite explicit this week about disavowing not only President Bush's Social Security reform proposals but the concept underlying it. "I have not signed on to any legislation, since I have been in Congress to take money from Social Security to create private accounts. I do not favor privatizing Social Security. I am opposed to President Bush's attempt to do so. Categorically," he said.

As TPM readers are well aware, those are the words that finally got Ford ejected from the Fainthearted Faction altogether.

So it seems, contrary to Mr. Luskin, that Ford really doesn't support President Bush's plan.

Now, I am by no means trying to insert myself into some Luskin-Ford smackdown. But there does seem to be a problem.

Perhaps Democrats should give some serious thought to amplifying this statement from Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, Rep. James McCrery (R) of Louisiana.

From the AP ...

"The AARP and the Democrats think if you divert some money from the trust fund," the existing program will be undermined, McCrery said. "That is true on its face. It does decrease the level of the trust fund. Politically, that's going to be a very strong tool that (opponents) can use to defeat a plan."

That's quite <$Ad$> a thing for someone in his position to say. The Republican with the Social Security portfolio in the House says that diverting money out of Social Security into private accounts weakens Social Security.

Just yesterday, according to the Los Angeles Times, a Bush aide conceded that implementing "individual accounts would do nothing to solve the system's long-term financial problems." But McCrery goes further, affirming the whole truth, which is that they will not only not improve Social Security's longtime solvency they will greatly undermine it.

If that's true, why would anybody be for them?

Did I mention Democrats should mention this?

Did I miss something or did Conscience Caucus member Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) of Montana stay mum while squiring President Bush around Montana? Last we checked in with the congressman's office, his spokesman Brad Keena told us the congressman was "open-minded" about privatization.

I see here where Sen. Conrad Burns (R), who I guess isn't exactly what you'd call a centrist, said he was "intrigued" by Bush's privatization plan. "Social Security is still a very, very important part of the retirement of a lot of seniors in Montana," he went on to say. "So we'll listen and we'll look and we'll probe ... and see what is in it for the next generation."

Frankly, it hadn't even occurred to me that President Bush couldn't count on Burns as a phase-out man. But what about Rehberg? I can't see where he was quoted anywhere today in any paper even though he spent a good part of the day traveling at the center of the national news bubble and he's one of three members of the Montana congressional delegation. Maybe I'm missing some comment to a local radio or TV station. And if there was, I'd be much obliged if you'd let me know. But as near as I can tell, Rehberg didn't answer any questions about the president's plan at all. And I figure there would have been some press interest had he been inclined to do so.

Everyone's reporting, rightly, that Sen. Baucus (D) made clear he's not going to support President Bush on phasing out Social Security. But isn't the story here that President Bush just won this state with 59% of the vote in November. He went to campaign in the state to support his new Social Security privatization plan. And he couldn't get any members of the state's congressional delegation to endorse his plan -- and two of them are from his own party.

Oddly enough, in its reporting, CNN makes no mention of this -- another example of the dire need for a blog devoted entirely to documenting the decline and Foxification of this once proud network.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg (R - well sorta) of New York becomes first Associate Member of the Conscience Caucus.

From the Times ...

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg distanced himself from President Bush yesterday on the president's proposal to divert some Social Security taxes into private investment accounts, describing the plan, which was the central theme of Mr. Bush's State of the Union address, as excessively risky.

"I've never thought that privatizing Social Security made a lot of sense," said Mr. Bloomberg, who, like Mr. Bush, is a Republican. "I think what you'd see is that people would invest - some people would invest - unwisely."

He added, "These are not monies that people should be speculating with."
Someone needs <$NoAd$> to get Larry Kudlow to explain markets to this bozo.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R) Floridia billows in the wind. Says she: "There are a lot of unanswered questions and until I have the answers to them, I am still in the 'withholding judgment' category."

We've put her in the Conscience Caucus with FIW status.