Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here's an important new development in the Social Security story.

According to this article by David Espo of the Associated Press, a group of senate Republicans met privately on Thursday to try to come up with a Republican consensus plan on a Social Security bill they can move through the Finance Committee and presumably on to the floor.

The key point: the plan under discussion not only jettisons private accounts, it seems also to jettison the key elements of the Bush Sorta-Pozen plan released little more than a month ago.

The devil would very much be in the details on this. But according to Espo, the plan under discussion would involve a gradual increase in the retirement age and a freeze, or near-freeze, in the annual wage-linked rise in benefits at retirement for upper-income earners.

Again, Espo's description is less precise than you'd want it to be to know exactly what was discussed. But what he seems to be saying is that unlike the early-May Bush plan (Bush Phase-Out 2.0?) which said it cut benefits for upper-income earners but actually cut them for almost everyone, this plan would really only cut them for upper-income earners.

To my reading, this sounds very much like the phase-out death rattle, the phase of a legislative struggle -- grimly reminiscent for some of us of late 1994 -- in which a doomed legislative initiative rapidly de-evolves into more and more pitiful and anemic forms of its original self before finally disappearing into thin air -- perhaps with not a few of its champions going 'poof' along with it.

Nothing more tasty on a summer day than a good mad-cow-burger. Take a look here at what we may be eating and why.

Yesterday a number of blogs seized on an article by Ken Bazinet in the Daily News as an example that President Bush was cutting loose private accounts and refocusing his energy on achieving 'solvency' in Social Security with steep benefit cuts.

It seemed to me that they were over-interpreting what the article or Bush actually said. What Bush actually said was that "you can solve the solvency issue without personal accounts." And it seems to me he's given different versions of that statement a number of times over the last two or three months.

But my point here is not to get into an argument about what that comment meant. Atrios and others may well be right. And important political shifts are often signaled by seemingly inconsequential statements.

But regardless of whether they're right in this case, Bush probably will eventually pivot in just this direction. So it makes sense to air the issue now.

Basically, as long as everyone has an accurate understanding of the big picture, I don't see why the defenders of Social Security should be worried by such a shift in direction from the president.

The thinking is that Democrats, having invested so much political and rhetorical energy in opposing 'privatization' will now be faced with a president who says, in so many words, 'I'm not for privatization or private accounts. You've got no beef with me. I'm just for solvency.'

But this is a case where simply going back to the basic facts of the matter helps clarify the debate.

What President Bush wants is to phase out Social Security. That isn't just rhetoric or words designed to put the other side off their footing. It's really the truth of the matter. Social Security is a social insurance program with guaranteed benefits for Americans when they retire -- benefits of a level to provide a baseline of support in old age. The very concept offends the president, as it does many of his supporters. The key is guarantees, which are the essence of security.

Privatization was the first and most obvious way to phase out Social Security. If privatizing doesn't work, he may try just going at it directly -- not just by cutting benefits, per se, but by cutting the rate at which Social Security keeps up with the actual costs of living in the United States. And that distinction is key since over time it will be whittled down to nothing.

In other words, it will be phased out, perhaps not entirely, but close enough as to make it an irrelevancy. Then people will be on their own in retirement, much as they were seventy-five years ago, before there was Social Security.

Like many people who share President Bush's ideological viewpoint, Social Security was always a bad thing. It's just taken time to find a convenient way to get rid of it.

The search for 'solvency' is simply a dodge. For starters, President Bush wants to lock in steep cuts now based on pessimistic projections of Social Security's future finances. Needless to say, if the projections are wrong, the benefits won't be restored. But 'solvency' is a dodge on an even deeper level.

If I run a business and I'm not bringing in enough money to pay expenses, solvency can easily be restored by just closing down my office and ceasing to sell anything. Then my inflows and outflows will be equal because I'll be out of business. Similarly, if I'm not making enough to send my children to the best schools or give them the best medical care, I can solve that problem by pulling them out of school and just giving them aspirin. Then the shortfall is solved.

Admittedly, these are blunt examples. But they illustrate the point: any discussion of 'solvency' is meaningless outside of the context of the aim or project you are trying to make solvent.

President Bush says there's a problem, that there may not be funds to pay everyone's benefits in the 2040s. His solution: cut their benefits. That way we'll be able to pay the full benefits because they'll be smaller. Problem solved.

This is the essence of his solution.

And that doesn't even get into the fact that he doesn't want to pay back the money already borrowed from the Trust Fund to fund his tax cuts among other things.

Privatization is a means to the president's end: phasing out Social Security. I'm sure he's willing to try any number of ways to get there. The other side wants to preserve Social Security. That's the debate. Nothing has changed that.

I'm hearing more and more from readers on the evolving 'Coingate' scandal in Ohio. Honestly, I'm way behind on it. But I'd like to know more. To help me and other readers come up to speed on the story, I'm getting a discussion started over at the Republicans discussion table at TPMCafe. If you're interested, see this post.

As some long-time readers know, I was born in Missouri. So I was pleased to receive a note from a reader today pointing my attention to these pictures from a big anti-privatization rally from last Thursday which greeted President Bush when he came to town for a fundraiser for Sen. Jim Talent (R).

Turns out there are all sorts of opportunities to vote with your feet on Social Security today -- at least if you're in Washington. Right now Social Security partisans are protesting in front of the Capital Hilton where President Bush is about to arrive to give a speech in favor of phasing out Social Security and replacing it with unsecured private accounts.

A new member of the Conscience Caucus. Actually, he says he's Loud & Proud in his opposition to phasing out Social Security: Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) of Pennsylvania.

We hear there may be some folks planning a counter-protest to take on the 'protest' sponsored by 'Social Security for All' this afternoon outside the Rock The Vote awards dinner. If you want more information on the company behind the group -- oil and petrochemical giant, Koch Industries -- see this page at the Center for Public Integrity.

Also, apparently the Young Americans for Phase-Out (aka, Social Security for All) are going to have their protest against Rock the Vote's support for Social Security at 5:30 this afternoon in front of the National Building Museum at the corner of 4th and G in DC.

If I weren't a couple hundred miles away (give or take) I'd show up and add my pro-Social Security voice to the mix. Actually, come to think of it, at 36 I may not count as youth any more. But if I were under 35 and in DC, I'd be there!

And I lived in DC for long enough to know there are plenty of pro-Social Security folks under 35 who could easily be at 4th and G at 5:30 in the afternoon.

So why not?

The best thing to do with these bozos is not to get into back and forth chants with them, but to participate in the festivities themselves and outnumber them. Of course, maybe you could bring a can of oil just to show you know where they're comin' from. But no more than that.

So if you're interested in showing up for the pre-event festivities, drop us a line and we'll try to post more relevant information.

Late Update: We've heard from a number of you who want to show up at 5:30 PM this afternoon. My understanding is that there will be various pre-dinner festivities and probably a bunch of celebs showing up on a red carpet and possibly even some tickets left for the after-party. But the main thing is show up and show support for Social Security and opposition to the phase-out crowd yipping and hollering across the street. And, oh yeah, bring a can of oil if you can. Make the Social Security for All folks feel at home.

I don't think the Bush adminsitration needed a lot of convincing not to sign the Kyoto global warming treaty. But this is the lede in a piece just out from The Guardian: "President's George Bush's decision not to sign the United States up to the Kyoto global warming treaty was partly a result of pressure from ExxonMobil, the world's most powerful oil company, and other industries, according to US State Department papers seen by the Guardian."

Someone (TPM Reader NE) sent me this link to a comment at Redstate.org encouraging people to come to a protest of Rock The Vote at the group's annual awards dinner tonight. It's sponsored, of course, by the new privatization astroturf group -- Social Security for all -- the one put together by Koch Industries other DC outlet, Americans for Progress.

In the post it says that Rock The Vote is hypocritical because they're against phasing out Social Security when in fact young people are in favor of phasing out Social Security.

So they're hypocrites -- unlike the renta-activists from Social Security for All.

Now, do young people really support phasing out Social Security? I'm not so sure about that. A lot of this turns on how the questions are worded. Asking generically about investing Social Security money in the stock market, without mentioning the risks or costs involved, polls pretty respectably -- now minority support, but substantial minority support.

But for months when pollsters have asked whether voters support 'the Bush plan on Social Security' the numbers are overwhelmingly against -- even among the youngest voters, though they tend to be more supportive than older voters.

There's a similar difference when the question is asked in context. Again, privitization polls terribly.

Point being, it's really not at all clear that young voters support privatization.

But what interested me more about the logic behind Social Security for All is that by their reasoning none of the pro-phase-out groups should exist at all. The public overwhelmingly opposes the Bush plan -- the old, the middle-aged, the young, probably even the young-at-heart, though they're harder to sample for.

So I guess that means that all the pro-phase-out groups should cease to exist for being such hypocrites.

Which phoney-baloney privatization astroturf group will be the first to drink the hemlock?