Egg shells. From Gannett…Even

Egg shells.

From Gannett

Even Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, one of the president’s strongest supporters, backed away from a Wednesday statement in which he said, “I agree with the president’s plan to encourage personal savings.”

On Thursday, DeWine modified the statement to say, “I agree that we must do something to encourage personal savings.” But he said he had not “determined whether … private savings accounts should be a part of strengthening Social Security for our children and grandchildren.”

The Cincinnati Post elaborates …

Sen. Mike DeWine, a GOP moderate, sometimes supports the president’s policies and sometimes doesn’t. His office had a tough time explaining whether or not he stands with the president this time.

Right after the president’s State of the Union address Wednesday night, DeWine’s office put out a statement saying the senator believed that the speech opened an important dialogue on protecting Social Security.

“I agree with the president’s plan to encourage personal savings,” the statement quoted the senator as saying.

Sounds like an endorsement of Bush’s proposal to let younger workers invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts. Right? Not exactly.

The next day, DeWine’s office issued another statement clarifying the senator’s remarks. Instead of saying he agreed with the president’s plan, what the first statement should have said, according to the follow-up release, was simply, “I agree that we must do something to encourage personal savings.”

“Sen. DeWine has not determined whether or not private savings accounts should be part of strengthening Social Security for our children and grandchildren,” the second statement said. “He does, however, strongly believe that we must look for ways to encourage more personal savings so that when people retire, that in addition to enjoying the benefits of Social Security, they will have other sources of income.”

The Cedarville Republican remains open “to all ideas” and believes that “the ideas that the president has, other Republicans have, and Democrats have should be fully explained, discussed and debated, and that we should forge a bipartisan compromise,” the follow-up release said.

“He also believes that is most important that we listen to the people, on what they think should be done to ensure that Social Security remains strong.”

The rapid growth of GOP queasiness about Social Security phase-out has strained the acceptance <$Ad$> mechanisms for the Conscience Caucus. Clearly DeWine is now a member of the Caucus since, as the founding rules state, he does “appear open to” opposing the president’s plan.

FIW status (Finger In The Wind) is reserved for those members who more or less openly state that they are willing to begin phasing out Social Security so long as the president can make it safe for them to do so. This status was first created for Sen. Gordon Smith (R) of Oregon.

Now, here at TPM we’re not so naive as not to understand that the great majority of Conscience Caucus members are Finger In The Winders in their heart of hearts. But, remember, the FIW status is reserved for that select group who more or less openly concede their intention to make a vote devoid of principle and indifferent to policy, like Smith.

As you can see, though, Sen. DeWine doesn’t qualify since he is one of that legion of Republicans who just think the world of George W. for taking the initiative on such a complex issue but somehow, well … just at the end of the day, gosh darnit, they just can’t seem to get their head around the subject, can’t decide whether replacing Social Security with private accounts is a good thing or not.

So even though we hear the initials may already be taken for something else, we’ve come up with a new category for these folks. Sen. DeWine is our first member of the Caucus to come in with CFO status, Can’t Figure it Out.

[ed.note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Sen. Mel Martinez as possibly entering the Conscience Caucus with FIW status.]