An update on the

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An update on the Democrats’ ‘Fainthearted Faction’, those who voted against the Filner Amendment in 2001, which was widely seen as a proxy vote for support or opposition to replacing Social Security with private investment accounts.

A couple weeks ago, Rep. Tom Allen of Maine released a statement in which he said, inter alia, that “The proposed Social Security privatization will sink the nation further into the ocean of red ink that has already resulted from this President’s failed budget and tax policies. No amount of media ‘spin’ can disguise the brutal fiscal reality that this plan is a double-edged sword that wreaks deficit havoc on one side and Social Security chaos on the other.”

Congressman Adam Schiff of California has released a statement in which he says: “The privatization of Social Security would be detrimental to the guarantee of a secure future for all of our seniors and our national economy. I have serious reservations about tying the Social Security funds into the stock market. Such accounts would expose participants to excessive market risk for an income source that has become so essential to many of the nation’s elderly. Our nation has a three-tiered retirement system — consisting of Social Security, private pensions, and personal investments. While we may want to undertake some “risk” in the latter two tiers, Social Security — as the tier that provides a basic floor of protection — should be more stable. It is true that steps need to be taken to strengthen the Social Security Trust Fund. First and foremost, we must continue to pay down the national debt to ensure that that the Trust Fund remains intact. However, the Administration’s privatization proposal is estimated to require borrowing at least $1 trillion, which would be a fiscally irresponsible decision. Instead, to protect the Trust Fund, we must prohibit the transfer of any funds to cover future tax cuts or new spending programs.”

Staffers for congressman Dennis Moore of Kansas have been telling TPM constituent-readers who’ve called his office in no uncertain terms that he opposes replacing all or part of Social Security with private accounts and we received a letter from him today in which he writes that “In the 109th Congress, we will attempt to address the challenges facing Social Security, but I cannot stress enough the importance of strengthening the current system instead of dismantling it. As such, I am opposed to any efforts to privatize the current Social Security system.” He also notes his support for taking Social Security “off-budget” thus preventing the use of the Social Security surpluses to mask general revenue deficits. Finally, he says — in reference to the Filner Amendment — that “while I applaud the Commission for helping to initiate a debate on how best to improve the Social Security system, let me assure you that I will continue to oppose any plan that would jeopardize the benefits of hardworking Americans through investment in individual accounts.”

Finally, Congressman Adam Smith of Washington, from what we can glean from TPM constituent-readers who’ve contacted his office and this article he wrote on December 17th, is very much keeping his options open on private accounts.

So, that all means that we’re striking Reps. Allen, Moore and Schiff from the Fainthearted Faction and leaving Congressman Smith definitely in.

That takes the number of members of the Fainthearted Faction down to ten. But we also have a new member joinging the Faction, Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee, who brings the number back to eleven. We’re adding Rep. Ford to the list because of an exchange a reader sent us between Rep. Ford and Mort Kondracke at a panel meeting on capitol hill last March sponsored by Centrists.Org, The Concord Coalition, The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget at the New America Foundation, and The Alliance for Worker Retirement Security.

When Kondracke asked Ford whether he could support Sen. Lindsey Graham’s private accounts bill (Graham was the other member of Congress on the panel), Ford responded …

Yes, I would, provided we could pay for the transition costs without running up bigger deficits. I’m not an expert on all the details, but I think his bill has good anti-poverty protections, and matching funds for lower-income workers. The personal accounts are progressive, which is good. And in the long run, it keeps Social Security costs down to about where they are now, which we can afford. In this budget environment, however, it will be very hard to pay for the transition costs of the accounts.

MORT KONDRACKE. Is there a caucus for entitlement reform among Democrats in the House? Realistically, how many House Democrats do you think would be interested in discussing Social Security reform and personal accounts?

REPRESENTATIVE FORD. I think there is a group who would be willing to work constructively. Maybe 50 or 60 members. Certainly, Charlie Stenholm has been an extraordinary leader on this. Charlie has been explaining this issue to voters for many years, and he is a very influential leader on budgets and entitlements.

So Congressman Ford enters the Faction. And that leaves us with the following updated list for the Fainthearted Faction …

Tom Allen
Marion Berry
Allen Boyd
Robert “Bud” Cramer
Harold Ford
Ron Kind
Dennis Moore

James Moran
Collin Peterson
Adam Schiff
Ike Skelton
Adam Smith
John Tanner
Gene Taylor

More soon on our Social Security ‘where do they stand’ database.

[ed.note: Thanks to TPM reader JH for the tip on Rep. Ford. The linked post contains more details on Ford.]

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