Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As long as prestige press outfits like the Times and others are willing to embrace whichever self-serving phrase either political party demands as the debate on judges debate continues, certainly Democrats need to get into the act.

And TPM Reader RR makes an inspired suggestion which, I think, more faithfully captures what's in play than either 'nuclear' or 'constitutional'.

It's the Crybaby Option.

As he puts it, "Oh, boo-hoo, we only got 95% of what we wanted so we're changing the rules. Waaaaah!"

Sort of like at a seven-year-old's birthday party where they want the parent to change the rules of Pin the Tail on the Donkey because they're not winning every time.

They really are babies. So call them on it.

Collaborative research is a wonderful thing.

When last we spoke, we were telling you how Republican press operatives were fanning out to editorial rooms around Washington and New York, attempting to ban the phrase 'nuclear option' from print and airwave, unless it is duly noted as a Democrat-created smear phrase.

We also noted one first small success in this new Republican lexical jihad. Today's Times notes that when discussing the abolishing of the filibuster: "Democrats call this the nuclear option, while Republicans call this a constitutional option."

As we went on to explain, this is pure crap. Republicans call it the "nuclear option" all the time.

Or at least they did until a couple days ago when some as yet undocumented focus group showed it didn't poll well. Indeed, Republicans have seemed most to relish the term, gleefully relishing its aura of threat and intimidation. Such was the case for instance when the Rev. Jerry Falwell told Ralph Neas on Crossfire on February 16th that if the Democrats persisted in not approving all of President Bush's nominees "he [i.e., Sen. Frist] will in fact impose the nuclear option. And there will be a 51-vote necessity only. When that happens, you guys are dead in the water, and you ought to be."

But who actually came up with the term?

When I first heard yesterday about these latest Republican word game antics, I was pretty sure that it was the Republicans themselves who coined the phrase 'nuclear option', for the reasons I note above. But I wasn't sure of the details.

But, in fact, as many of you have now written in, it seems that the guy who came up with this notorious Democratic smear was none other than its prime proponent, Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi.

For more on this we listen in on Jeffrey Toobin's piece from March 7th issue of The New Yorker ...

Changing the Senate’s rules on judicial filibustering was first addressed in 2003, during the successful Democratic filibuster against Miguel Estrada, whom Bush had nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Ted Stevens, a Republican Senate veteran from Alaska, was complaining in the cloakroom that the Democratic tactic should simply be declared out of order, and, soon enough, a group of Republican aides began to talk about changing the rules. It was understood at once that such a change would be explosive; Senator Trent Lott, the former Majority Leader, came up with “nuclear option,” and the term stuck.

You might have thought getting gamed on 'privatization' might have led some of these newshounds to a greater skepticism the next time those RNC operatives came calling. But it seems we have not yet plumbed the depths of the 'spank me, spank me' journalistic ethic.

Are things going even worse for the GOP on judges than I thought?

If you're conversant with the Republican national political debate taxonomy, you know that there is a point at roughly 15 to 16 days after the GOP starts losing a debate that crack teams of specially trained GOP spinmeisters are sent out to bamboozle gullible newspaper editors and TV producers into changing their vocabulary to make it conform to the latest findings of GOP focus groups.

And it seems they've found their first easy mark.

At the tail end of David Kirkpatrick's piece in Saturday's Times is this graf (emphasis added) ...

Current Senate rules require 60 votes to close debate on a confirmation, allowing Democrats to thwart the action by mustering 41 votes. Republicans want to lower the threshold for closing debate on all nominations to a simple majority. Democrats call this the nuclear option, while Republicans call this a constitutional option.

Now, maybe I'm just selective in my memory. But I seem to remember Republicans and Democrats using this phrase all the $%*#%&@ time. Needless to say, what's <$Ad$> happened now is that Republicans are getting bad results in the polls. So they've come up with a new smiley-face vocabulary and they're hitting all the newsrooms telling editors that it's an example of bias to use the phrase 'nuclear option' since that's a slur devised by Democrats.

So is it really true that only Democrats use this phrase?

Well, setting aside that everyone who's listened to this debate for more than ten seconds knows that most Republicans used this phrase as their preferred one until about ten days ago, I still wanted to go back to the records and check. And I needed some way to narrow down the search. So I tried searching the Weekly Standard for any articles which included the word 'filibuster' and 'nuclear option'.

I came up with four hits, the first of which was from September 2004.

In the first article you don't have to go too far beyond the title: "Full Court Press; Will Senate Republicans 'go nuclear' over judges?"

Down into the article, author Duncan Currie writes, "With 10 nominations now blocked by filibuster, many GOP senators say it's time to use the 'nuclear option'--or, as they prefer to call it, the 'constitutional option.'" But even Currie seemed unable to keep a straight face for this early example of GOP word game bamboozlement since he continued to use the 'nuclear option' phrase through the rest of the article.

In December of last year, Currie was again writing about the subject and again using the phrase "nuclear option."

Then less than two weeks ago, on April 7th, Currie used this as the third line of yet another judges article: "Republicans talk of a 'nuclear option' to break the impasse."

The fourth example seems particularly apt since it actually takes place in the future -- the publication date is April 25th. In an editorial penned for the editors Philip Terzian, the first graf reads ...

THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER, Bill Frist, and his Republican colleagues, face a momentous decision: Do they allow the Democratic minority to prevent the Senate from voting on judicial nominees, or do they invoke the "nuclear option"--that is, change the rules so a simple majority of 51 can force a vote?

Now, let's be frank. There's no intrinsic reason why banning filibusters for judicial nominations should be called the 'nuclear option'. And if Republicans want to start referring to it as the 'judicial act of love' they can do that. But one side in a debate shouldn't be able to order the refs in the game to rewrite the lexicon just because people don't like what's happening. And yet that's just what's happening. Republicans are now making a concerted push at a whole slew of news organizations, trying to convince them to stop using the term in their coverage, on the argument that it's an attack phrase concocted by the Democrats. And it would seem the editors and producers are either too ignorant or too lily-livered not to let them have their way.

Perhaps we can just call ending filibusters 'privatization'.

TPMCafe Fundraiser Update!

First, again, thank you. We've now had over 500 readers contribute. And we're well on our way to raising the funds we'll need for the new site.

We've had more people asking this. So just to repeat: if you don't want to send a contribution via PayPal, you can find instructions here on how to send a check by mail. We'll be changing the page that the graphic on the right links to so that we won't have to keep pointing this out in posts. We'll also be adding a brief FAQ to that page that should cover the most frequently asked questions about our fundraiser. (I guess that's why they call it a FAQ.)

Finally, in addition to these public thanks above, you'll be hearing from us individually by email to express our appreciation. But there are already over 500 contributors. And the emails are not automated, but sent individually. So we're a tad behind. I appreciate your patience and you'll be hearing from us shortly.

Andrew Sullivan nails this point so dead-on in this post, that I'm going to quote <$NoAd$> the post in toto ...

QUOTE FOR THE DAY I: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference ... I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials." - president John F. Kennedy. At the time, the speech was regarded as an attempt to refute anti-Catholic prejudice. Today, wouldn't the theocons regard it as an expression of anti-Catholic prejudice? Wouldn't Bill Frist see president Kennedy as an enemy of "people of faith"? Just asking.

Clarifies where we are, doesn't it?

This really is quite something.

This page right here is the one I go to to check the weather. It's put out by the National Weather Service. It's a lot like some commercial ones, only it has more information, costs nothing and contains no ads.

But as the Carpetbagger Report notes here, Sen. Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania has introduced a bill that would ban the federal government's meteorologists from making this information available for free since that creates a problem for outfits like The Weather Channel and AccuWeather, which want to sell it.

Plenty of federal legislation these days boils down to this sort of rip-off of the public. But seldom is the equation so clear.

You paid for the data. Your tax dollars fund a massive apparatus of meteorological data collection for reasons ranging from agriculture to disaster safety to keeping airplanes in the air -- everything under the sun. You pay for it and this is just the feds making it available to you on a website. The cost of letting you access it must be minuscule compared to that of collecting it. Indeed, most of the data these other guys sell is stuff they get from the feds or fed-subsidized data collection.

So they're in the business of selling to you the information that your tax dollars already went into collecting. And apparently they add so little added value that they can't handle the competition when the National Weather Service just gives it away. Santorum wants to make these guys into some sort of information age tax farmers.

This article in the Palm Beach Post goes into greater detail on the bill. And you can see from its proponents feeble justifications just what a con this is. They note, for instance, that the bill would not prevent the National Weather Service from alerting the public to imminent disasters, which is awfully generous of them.

Indeed, the executive vice president of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, probably had to have his face specially treated with some sort of fixing agent to prevent him from laughing out loud when he told the Post that the "bill would improve public safety by making the weather service devote its efforts to hurricanes, tsunamis and other dangers, rather than duplicating products already available from the private sector."

You just can't make this stuff up.

As noted earlier, next Tuesday, Sen. Grassley (R) of Iowa is convening the Senate Finance Committee to begin writing a Social Security phase-out bill for passage in the senate. But you don't need to be one of our readers on the committee to make your voice heard.

If you live in the Washington area and you don't like what Sen. Grassley is doing under the president's orders, you can make your voice heard within earshot of the senator at the anti-privatization rally being held on the Upper Senate Park at the corner of Delaware and Constitution Avenues at 1 PM that afternoon, Tuesday, April 26th.

If you want more details, click here. They (Americans United to Protect Social Security) also needs volunteers. So maybe if you can't make it on Tuesday, you can volunteer. For more on that, click here.

Now, maybe you're one of Sen. Grassley's constituents out in Iowa or one of the wobbly Sen. Smith's constituents in Oregon. And you can't make.

No problem.

They're also organizing rallies in a couple dozens cities across the country on Tuesday. They're in Pheonix and Des Moines, in Connecticut and Louisiana, and a bunch of other places. Heck, they're all over the place. So click here if you want to see if there's one you can get to.

It sounds corny. But I get asked by TPM Readers all the time how they can make some difference on Social Security. This stuff makes a big difference. It really does.

Next down the pike from the White House, as you know, is "tax reform." That means either a Flat Tax or a much flatter tax. And whichever names you dress it up with or rationales used to justify it, it's a fancy way to describe putting more of the tax burden on middle income earners.

But an important article that ran last week in the Christian Science Monitor (and which TPM Reader AM brought to my attention yesterday) explains that our tax code is already pretty darn flat.

According to the article (which relies on statistics compiled by the Congressional Budget Office and the irreplaceable Bob McIntyre at Citizens for Tax Justice), the top 1% of earners currently pay an effective rate of 32.8%, when federal, state and local taxes are added together. The bottom 99%, meanwhile, pays 29.4%. And even more striking figure is the effective rate paid by the middle 20% on the income scale. That's, pretty much by definition, middle income earners -- whose average income is $34,500. They pay an effective rate of 27%.

So the top 1% (average income=$978,000) pays 32.8% and the middle 20% (average income=$34,500) pays 27%. I'd say that's pretty flat already.

Now, an important part of the equation is state and local taxes, which tend to be fairly regressive. But even when you look at only federal taxes, the tilt isn't that great.

Needless to say, the effect of all President Bush's tax cuts has been to make the tax code more flat -- and, of course, intentionally so. That's the agenda.

From the bootlicks to power at The Note: "While the filibuster fight and Social Security are giving the opposition party rare unity, it doesn't mean the Democrats necessarily have any good ideas, any plan for the future, or any capacity to make gains from all this."

Clear your throat. Because Sen. Grassley (R) has something he wants to shove down it.

As the Times reports this morning and USA Today did yesterday, Chairman Grassley plans to use the Finance Committee hearings he's scheduled for next week to produce a Republicans-only Social Security phase-out bill.

The thinking behind such a move would be that having an actual bill in the senate would give the president greater leverage to muscle Fainthearted senators like Sen. Pryor (D) of Arkansas over into the phase-out ranks.

Truth be told, I would not be surprised if Sen. Grassley is himself having something shoved down his throat here. But let's leave that discussion for another time and look instead at the Republican-side committee membership on the Finance Committee and consider whether Grassley can even get a bill out of committee.

The membership includes Grassley, Hatch, Lott, Snowe, Kyl, Thomas, Santorum, Frist, Smith, Bunning and Crapo.

Three names on that list will immediately stand out to TPM Readers: Snowe, Thomas and Smith, each of whom is currently listed in the Conscience Caucus, though with quite varying degrees of actual rather than notional conscience.

Snowe has been fairly outspoken in her opposition to private accounts. Sen. Smith (R) of Oregon has been much more a finger-in-the-wind man on phase-out. But in mid-February, when Portland Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn asked him point-blank whether we were right to put him in the Conscience Caucus ... well, here's what happened ...

Is the Conscience Caucus the accurate address for him?

"That's an appropriate conclusion," says Smith. "I have not signed up to anyone's plan.

"I'm open to the debate. I'm keeping my counsel."

So it sounds like Sen. Grassley may be making Sen. Smith come out and say where he stands.

Then there's Sen. Craig Thomas (R) of Wyoming. Thomas's caucushood has flown a bit under Washington's radar, but as we noted on March 3rd, he told the editors of Jackson Hole News & Guide he wasn't crazy about the president's plan ...

Wyoming’s senior U.S. senator says the federal government must do something to change Social Security, but he is hesitant to embrace a plan for personal savings accounts put forth by the Bush administration.

Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said the federal government may not be "financially able" to take on the expense of the private savings plan, which he pegged at $2 trillion. Thomas said it does not make good financial sense to reduce the amount of money flowing into the Social Security trust fund at a time when payouts to baby boomers are projected to increase.

"I’m willing to talk about it, but I’m not persuaded at this point," Thomas said Thursday during a meeting with News&Guide reporters.

So that's three of the eleven Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee who have been telling their constituents that they're leaning against phase-out. We can't wait to see what they'll be telling them next week, since phase-out will be in their hands.