Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Trouble in Phase-Out City, reports the LA Times: "President Bush's push to transform Social Security is in trouble, despite intense salesmanship designed to build support in Congress and with the public."

Kevin Drum has some apt comments on what it means.

Et Tu, Kent?

I don't want to worry you needlessly, fellow sleuths. But some senators may be smiling at your Social-Security-loving faces while plotting phase-out behind your backs.

Upsetting, I know. But be strong.

As you know, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina has been running a bipartisan phase-out book club up on the hill. And my sources tell me that the participants are ...

Baucus (D) Carper (D) Collins (R) Conrad (D) Feinstein (D) Graham (R) Grassley (R) Gregg (R) Lieberman (D) Lincoln (D) Ben Nelson (D) Bill Nelson (D)

As you can see, quite a few current and former members of the Faction grace the list. But what's always been odd about this group is that Graham has made clear that phase-out is what's on the table, albeit perhaps a more honestly-budgeted and less draconian form of it.

And yet by my count, at least five of the Dems on that list are on record against phase-out, the key point being private accounts carved-out from Social Security.

And this invites an obvious question: Just what do they have to talk about?

I'll admit that I like sitting around in a circle and shooting the breeze about the latest Social Security primer as much as the next guy. Perhaps they're even singing a little Kumbaya just to loosen things up. But if everyone's being on the level, there shouldn't be any point of compromise possible.

And yet today we hear this from Bloomberg News ...

Graham, who leads a group of Democrats and Republicans discussing Social Security and is working with the White House, said he would present a plan within the next couple of weeks that provides the outline for a compromise with Democrats.

Now, given the tone of things, it would look awfully foolish to come out with a plan that purports to be an outline for a compromise with Democrats if you didn't have even one Democrat on board. And Graham is no fool. In fact, Social Security aside as well as many other political disagreements, he's a solid senator with independence and integrity, as near as we can tell.

So who's getting ready to sign on?

Who on that list isn't being on the level?

We've even got a new designation ready for any of them who said they were out of the Faction and then did the deed: "SIB" ("Stab in the Back").

We're pretty sure Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida wouldn't sign on to anything so villainous, if for no other reason than that he appears to have made a strategic decision to campaign for reelection next year on the basis of opposing phase-out.

About Baucus and Feinstein we think there's some reason to think they're on the level too -- though it's nothing we'd put money on.

But of the others, who knows?

Can't get no respect?

First the New Hampshire fiasco; now <$NoAd$>this!

Just a couple days ago, President Bush gave the luxe treatment to the Quad City (Iowa) Times' veteran political reporter Ed Tibbetts to talk about Social Security phase-out.

The next thing you know, they're whacking him on their editorial page.

The Times sent veteran political reporter Ed Tibbetts to Washington for a special White House briefing with President Bush specifically to share insight with readers about this important debate. Among the most critical questions: What is the president willing to accept in terms of raising the retirement age, curtailing benefits, increasing payroll deductions or extending the taxation to higher incomes?

On almost all, our president declined to share his thoughts. “The more I preclude ideas, it’s less likely something might come forth. This is going to have to be written by the Congress along with our input,” the president said.


We know from experience our President’s administration has a tough time processing information. Recall that cost estimates of the Medicare drug benefit weren’t even in reality’s ballpark. The Bush administration’s newest estimates are more than double what they swore to 20 months ago when pitching the plan to Congress.

And the president and staff missed wildly on weapons of mass destruction. Regardless of the war’s present outcome, Congress authorized a search and destroy mission for weapons, not the liberation of a country. That misinterpretation cost 1,462 American lives so far and affected millions more whose families have been directly touched by war.

Social Security affects many, many more — less violently for sure. But for the millions who will be absolutely reliant on that retirement or disability income, Social Security can be a life or death matter.

If the system indeed is in crisis, we can’t afford to guesstimate our way out of it.


Ahhh, truer words, truer words ...

The delightful Jill Zuckman from the Chicago Tribune ...

President Bush declared Thursday that his overhaul of Social Security "is going nowhere" if Congress does not come to share his belief in the urgent need for change. He acknowledged that he still has much work to do in convincing both lawmakers and the public of the merits of his proposal.

I think we've found something we can agree on.

You've got to be awfully fainthearted to get into the Fainthearted Faction when you're not even in Congress.

But some men are up to the challenge.

Gov. Ed Rendell (D) of Pennsylvania, for instance, was an early entrant to the Fainthearted Faction. That was way back on January 1st after an extremely fainthearted appearance on Hardball on the 29th.

(Andrea Mitchell was the guest host that night. So there may have been some Greenspanian mojo in the air that contributed to the governor's bout of faintheartedness.)

But on the basis of this still vaguely fainthearted talk at the University of Pennsylvania and his appearance on Monday night's Hardball we've decided to strike his name from the Faction roll.

The 'Jeff Gannon'/John Thune connection? No, I'm not trading in euphemisms or innuendo. I mean political ties, and getting to the bottom of just who was working for who. Check this out. We'll add more later. See this too.

In addition to having a couple of 'bloggers' on the payroll this year, Thune went in for some similar shenanigans in 2002.

So it seems the president's New Hampshire Bamboozlepalooza stop didn't pan out so well.

A piece in Tuesday's Union Leader announced that there were still plenty of tickets available for the president's event. In the event, however, only about half of the 2,000 free tickets got snatched up. Before the president hit the stage, White House aides had to scurry around collecting empty seats to avoid images of the president speaking to a half-empty room. With such low demand they may even have considered letting in folks who wouldn't sign a loyalty oath or didn't have relatives employed at Cato. But the reports provide no details on that count.

As the rather-less-than-liberal Boston Herald headlined it: "Bush strikes out in N.H. on Social Security."

Also a bit of a bummer is that Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) chose yesterday to restate his apparent opposition to Bush's phase out plan.

Bradley has been bouncing around the edges of the Conscience Caucus for some time. And, as we alluded to yesterday, we almost had to come up with an entirely new category for him after the president himself appeared to put Bradley in the Caucus by something like an impromptu executive order.

The president's visit was to Bradley's district and as an AP story from yesterday had it ...

Though Bush heaped praise on scores of local politicians, from the state's two Republican senators on down, he did not mention Bradley.

"You don't have to worry about your senators. They're people who understand we have got to address the problem," he said, conspicuously omitting Bradley.

As this and other passages in the article make clear, the president sure seems to think Bradley's in the Caucus. Indeed, a bunch of New Hampshire political observers seemed to think that was the reason he was there.

We were about ready to put Bradley in the Caucus, just on the president's say-so. Then later in the day he issued a statement saying: "In 2002, I opposed privatization, and I remain opposed to privatization."

Now, as we've noted many times, lots of phase-out supporters say they're opposed to privatization but mean by that they still support private accounts (sort of a big middle finger flipped to the English language.) Yet, all the New Hampshire papers had little doubt that Bradley was opposing the president. Since they headlined the story I think they were probably sure that his statement was what it appeared to be on the surface.

Just to be sure, I put a call in to the congressman's office today. When I asked whether his opposition to 'privatization' meant he was opposed to carved-out private accounts, the staffer I spoke to said she would check and get back to me. I haven't heard back yet. But I didn't get the impression there was any Heather-Wilson-like ducking and weaving going on, just an effort to check with the boss before answering a relatively technical question.

In any case, until we hear otherwise, on the president's say-so and taking his own words at face value, Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) of New Hampshire becomes the 21st member of the House Conscience Caucus. And subject to what we hear back from his office, he may even be Loud and Proud.

I sometimes wonder -- genuinely wonder -- how often some folks on the rightward side of the privatization debate simply repeat claims they know to be false or whether they simply shovel them up from the noise machine and dish them back out without making any attempt to find out whether what they're repeating is true or not.

A few moments ago, a TPM Reader sent me a link to this post on the site of Roger L. Simon.

He says many things in it on the Social Security debate which one may agree or disagree with. But what pops out to me is his flat claim that both Sen. Harry Reid and President Bill Clinton supported private Social Security accounts in the late 1990s. The point being that the two men are transparently hypocritical since they now attack President Bush for supporting what they endorsed less than a decade ago.

This is simply false, presumably because Simon simply isn't familiar with the subject. It's not an issue up for debate or a question of interpretation. It's simply a matter of the difference between what did happen and what did not happen.

There's no particular reason to pick on Simon. This stuff is ubiquitous. One might just as easily have chosen from a thousand other examples -- not a few of them on cable networks and other places that are supposed to have checks in place to prevent egregious error and misstatement of fact.

What Bill Clinton proposed was that rather than having the Social Security Trust Fund invest all its assets in Treasury bonds that it invest a relatively small portion of those assets in private securities. Again, no point of interpretation here: that's not private accounts, period. The president also proposed so-called USA Accounts, a universal 401k available to all Americans, but not part of Social Security. Again, completely different from what the president is proposing.

I am close to certain that this is exactly what Sen. Reid endorsed or proposed as well. My only reason for the slight qualification is that I cannot say that I am familiar with every quotation or press release that the senator put out in the 90s, though the ones I've seen purporting to show his support for private accounts are just what I described above in the case of Clinton. I can't say it in his case, but I can say it in Clinton's.

The pattern here is pretty much just the same with the intentional misconstrual or distortion of the quote from FDR which purports to show him supporting a transition to private accounts. Kevin Drum has a good run-down on that one here.

In both cases, the misinformation or lies continue to cycle through the echo chamber, apparently with no penalty for their falsehood or attempt to correct.

I'm not sure what there is to say about this really other than to observe the relative half-life of misinformation on the right today. But it seems worth noting it for the record.

Late Update: The specific target of this post, Roger Simon, quickly updated his post, correcting the error. So good for him. Nobody can keep up with every angle of every topic without sometimes hitting a false note. So correction is the key. The general point stands, however, since such timely, good faith correction is not the norm. Has Brit Hume corrected his whopper yet? Even though his tendentious error has now been pointed out probably as many times as his fellow chirpers have repeated it? Didn't think so.

Aha! No doubt the first of many online actuarial calculators that will let you see how big your Social Security benefit cuts will be under the first stage of the Bush phase-out plan. This one from Sen. Schumer of New York.

Frank Rich, perceptive and amusing, on what the surreal 'Jeff Gannon' saga all amounts to.

Has anyone registered potemkinrepublicanism.com yet?

And one more stab at this: I won't deny a certain discomfort at the vaguely lord-of-the-fliesian nature of the exposure of all this man's lurid ridiculousness. But if it turned out that any other president -- doesn't even have to be Clinton -- had a ringer 'reporter' stationed in the press pool to serve up soft-serve questions, and the same folks had already been caught paying off or buying or otherwise subborning other 'journalists' several times in recent months, AND evidence mounted that the ringer 'reporter' turned out to be a ringer 'reporter'/GI Joe-style male prostitute with what Sid Blumenthal rightly calls "enormous potential for blackmail", don't we figure that this would have ginned up a bit more big time press razzle-dazzle and gasps and awwws by now?