Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Democrats certainly must realize that they need to be careful how far they get into this debate over 'triggers.' The substance of the Democratic argument is that even if the rosy budget predictions prove true, the Bush plan still doesn't leave sufficient funds for important domestic priorities like a prescription drug benefit; and too much of the cuts go to the very wealthy. The fact that the plan will throw us back into deficits if the predictions don't pan out is just icing on the politico-economic cake.

But as long as 'triggers' are the subject du' jour, let's look at some of the lamer ideas being tossed around.

Senator Bob Torricelli is hawking a trigger that the president can waive. As this article by Bob Novack explains, Torricelli would have a trigger kick in if the surplus numbers don't pan out. But the president could waive the trigger (sort of uncock it, I guess) if he made a 'finding of fact' that holding off on the tax cuts would not be in the best interests of the economic health of the country.

Now let's just start with the most obvious reasons this is boneheaded idea.

If you're a Dem you've got to wonder why Torricelli feels the need to cover Bush's rear when even Republican moderates aren't wild about the size of Bush's tax bill.

More importantly, can anyone really imagine any situation in which George W. would not make 'a finding of fact' that postponing tax cuts would not be in the best interests of the country.

But forget about George W. Bush. Given the loaded phrasing of the waiver language and the vagueness of the standard, this wouldn't be a 'finding of fact.' More like a finding of ideology. What it really means is that in the latter years of this decade the president would make fiscal policy by executive order.

It's really hard to think of a stupider idea. If you can think of one, send it here.

(And as far as Torch is concerned, doesn't he worry that if he keeps sticking his finger in his party's eye, they may decide to stop carrying water for him on all those indictments hanging over his head ... Just a thought.)

Now let's go to the second anti-trigger argument making the rounds. Republicans have responded to calls for a tax-cut trigger with their own calls for a spending-cut trigger. If the surpluses don't come in, cut spending, not taxes, they say. This of course is because spending is out of control, government's the problem not the solution ... yada, yada, yada.

But wait a second. George W. is president now! Legitimate or not, he is president. We're having this whole debate on the basis of his numbers. His budget projections, his tax cut, his projected spending -- the whole kit-and-caboodle, as my Dad would say.

So Bush can't pretend that we're talking about some hypothetical, future Barney Frank-Maxine Waters budget bill. You can barely make the numbers to work with Bush's pinched budget. And this raises the obvious question: which spending that Bush has called for does he think should be cut if the surpluses don't pan out. The new education spending, the promised new spending on the military, NIH funding? What?

Bush's opponents say he puts his tax cut before domestic priorities his budget doesn't fund - a prescription drug benefit, new education spending. But that's only the half of it. It turns out that Bush even puts his tax cut before domestic priorities he does fund.

In any case, the tax cuts are spelled out, so none of this everything-in-general 'cut spending' line. Let's get it on the table, which of Bush's own spending priorities don't matter enough to get in the way of his tax cut.

Can we talk? As you know, we like to keep a civil tone here in the Talking Points newsroom. But, hey, let's be honest: it's just hard to overstate how profoundly dishonest a person House Majority Leader Dick Armey really is.

Armey is the poster boy for a particularly troublesome Washington phenomenon: because of the canons of journalistic objectivity, it is generally okay to lie brazenly as long as it's about public policy. (If it's about your personal life, watch out!)

Why is this so? In general, because every story is supposed to have two sides to it. And journalists are very hesitant to say so when one side's argument is true and the other's is simply false. In any case, Dick Armey is a big beneficiary of this rule.

This afternoon he was on CNN lying about the Democrats' alternative tax plan, and roughing up and/or getting fresh with the truth on a half a dozen other counts as well. (Here's the transcript.) Maybe it's time to start spreading the word about just how wretched Mr. Armey's politics really are. You know, thing like being against Medicare. Stuff like that. Let's crank up the Talking Points oppo research machinery.

(Normally I don't like using words like 'lying' and 'dishonest.' I like to leave words like those to anti-Clinton scum. But for Armey I'll make an exception.)

And, oh yeah, while we're at it, this new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities exposes why the Treasury Department's analysis of the Bush tax bill sounds so good. They changed the scoring methodology, cooked the books, pick your metaphor. Go take a peek.

I expect a lot of frothy hyperbole from Andrew Sullivan's website. But does Andrew really seriously believe that Juanita Yvette Lozano (the Bush campaign worker now indicted for sending the infamous debate prep video to Tom Downey - AS calls her a "democratic activist" … please) was part of a plot emanating from the Gore campaign? Really? At the risk of stating the transparently obvious, if the Gore campaign was behind pilfering the tape, why did they take the tape to the FBI?

Now, let's be candid. Or let me rephrase that: let me be candid. I'd love to find out that Karl Rove was behind this whole thing.


Human nature.

Original sin.

My fallen nature.

Wanting bad things to happen to my enemies.

Because Rove's BEEN CAUGHT DOING THIS KIND OF THING BEFORE and I'd like to see him get caught, etc.

(Okay, okay. Not quite proven. But read the link above about Rove, and draw your own conclusions.)

I'm going to be watching the Lozano case pretty close to see what comes up. But, regrettably, I've got to conclude that Rove probably didn't do it. If he did, we'll know soon enough, because it's hard to imagine that Lozano wouldn't give up her bosses if she could, since she's facing like 15 years - at least in theory.

Anyway, back to the point.

There's a very plausible scenario in which this tape sending episode was a dirty trick by the Bush campaign. One that went awry when Tom Downey didn't take the bait and took the tape to the FBI. It's also plausible that Lozano just came up with this on her own- presumably because of latent Dem sympathies. But it's really not plausible to conclude that the Gore camp hatched this plot and then betrayed its own plot to the Feds. I think that's a pretty safe bet unless and until we see some surprising new evidence to the contrary. And I feel pretty confident that Sullivan does not have any such evidence.

Way confident.

Here we have yet another sign that President Bush's tactic of reaching out with his fists may not be having the intended results.

This article from the Post says Democrats from Bush-leaning states don't seem particularly intimidated by his pushy visits to their states. And a number seem like they're getting pissed. Word is also that John Breaux, the Senator from Louisiana, is miffed at Bush. He apparently feels that the Bushies played him for a fool, trotting him out as a symbol of bipartisanship, and then pursuing a partisan, uncompromising agenda.

I've also gotten the impression, from a number of recent conversations, that the White House is increasingly looking at this whole effort on the Clinton 1993 model. That is to say, rely on near total support from your own party, little or no support from the opposition, and ram it through with only a vote or two to spare.

Democrats half fear that Bush will offer them a compromise later on, bring over a bunch of Dems, and then claim political credit for an improved bill. But they may not be figuring on how little room Bush has to compromise -- given the importance the tax cut has for keeping members of the conservative coalition in line and quiet about policy priorities he'd rather they not bring up.

To Bush, Rove, et. al. this is simply not a fight they can afford to lose or a struggle they can afford to give on; and that argument is one they'll be making VERY strenuously to wavering Senate Republicans a couple months from now.

More on this later.

The DLC looks to be facing a moment of truth. As I argued in this article a month ago, the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council) supports privatizing reforms of Social Security and Medicare. But many of the DLC's 'New Democrats' don't want anything to do with these positions. So that's their problem on the left.

But there's a new problem on the right.

The DLC has put forth a potent, intelligent critique of the Bush tax cut and proposed an alternative which mixes debt-pay-down and fiscal responsibility with support for a progressive, across the board tax cut centered on a refundable income tax credit tied to payroll tax liability.

So far so good.

But as this article in today's Times makes clear, a number of the card-carrying New Democrats in the Senate seem uncertain whether to play ball with Bush or not on the tax cut. I'm talking about Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, John Breaux, Mary Landrieu, etc.

This isn't an issue of whether the DLC can discipline these people; it's not that kind of organization. The question is whether there really is such a thing as a New Democrat. Or to put it another way, whether New Democrat politics has enough resonance and coherence to keep these people on the reservation in the face of Bush's bullying and cajoling.

If it does, if they can keep these Democrats from marginal states from hopping on the Bush bandwagon, then the DLC will have gone a long way to demonstrating its value as part of a broad progressive coalition opposing the Bush agenda.

If they can't, then there probably really isn't such a thing as a New Democrat - at least as the DLC has branded the term. And the DLC wouldn't be the head of a movement so much as an a la carte policy shop with no real constituency.

That wouldn't mean that individual New Democrat policies necessarily lack merit. It would just mean there's no such thing as a New Democrat politics.

P.S. Does the DLC necessarily own the term New Democrat? No, but let's leave that for another day.

P.S.S. Are you still optimistic on the tax cut front? Yes.

Here's a very interesting article in today's Washington Post. The title hits at the 'honeymoon is over' storyline (as though there ever really was a honeymoon between the president and the Democrats on Capitol Hill). The more interesting story is the brass tacks game the president and his Hill allies are playing on the tax bill and the way it's stiffening resolve among Democrats -- even conservative Democrats.

The big fear the Democrats have had from the start is that Bush would try to peel off enough conservative Democrats to pass his legislation and have the appearance of bipartisan cooperation. That would have put Dems in a very bad position -- and the prospect had them very scared. Especially after Zell Miller jumped ship without even being pushed.

But there are two ways for a Republican president to pursue this peel off strategy. One is to come to the center -- or the center-right -- and do business with just enough conservative Democrats to get the numbers he needs. He'd listen to them, make nice with them, compromise with them, and so forth.

The other way is to try to bully them, which is what the Post article says he's doing -- sending direct mail into the districts of conservative Democrats, trying to get their constituents to lean on them to get with the Bush program, etc.

But this latter approach is a high stakes game -- because it's very easy to piss people off by doing this, but not nearly as easy to get people to vote your way.

Bush has also had his House allies push through his tax cut on straight party-line votes in the House Ways & Means Committee, which again looks a 'my way or the highway approach.'

According to this article, this swaggering approach to legislative strategy has managed to get conservative Texas Democrat pretty peeved at the new president.

If Bush has managed to piss of Charlie Stenholm then Bush is really up a creek.

Looks like we're about to hear some new revelations on what Republicans were up to in Florida after the election. This time centering on the question of military absentee ballots. It'll be interesting to see whether the revealer has really got the goods on this one, or no.

More on this soon.

The Washington Post says George W. Bush is hawking an alternative statistical analysis of his tax plan which says that only 22% of his tax cut will go to the top 1% of earners as opposed to the 43% number which Democrats have been citing. As the Post notes, much of the difference is due to the fact that Bush's new analysis doesn't figure in the repeal of the estate tax (also known as the 'death tax' to many Republican whackos) or a number of other cuts which only kick in after 2006. And of course pretty much all of the estate tax repeal benefits go to the very wealthy.

Dishonest numbers aside though, this is a very positive development for opponents of Bush's plan. Very positive. Why? Simple. Because this is playing ball entirely on the Democrats' turf. As any Republican strategist will tell you, Republicans don't win tax debates with arguments over distributional equity. A sign of how they're getting dragged off message is that Bush's crew is getting into almost daily dust-ups with Talking Points' friends at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and Citizens for Tax Justice.

Second of all, to be frank, Bush's numbers are completely bogus. And I don't just mean the standard sense in which everyone's numbers are a bit different. I mean he's not including the estate tax! What's that about? This isn't fuzzy math. It's bull$&%@ math. And very easily exposed as such.

Therefore, not only is Bush starting to fight this out on unfriendly territory, he's also starting the fight with a batch of numbers that are transparently bogus. So before we even get to the argument over equity we're going to have a sub-argument about why Bush is trying to pass off these phony numbers.

P.S. If you're not bored to tears by this tax stuff, check out this new fact sheet from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities which notes how the numbers Bush himself is relying on are now showing that the true cost of the plan is roughly $2 trillion.

Hey, look at this groovy new feature just developed by the folks over at the Talking Points IT department.

In the long history of TPM we've often gotten complaints - well, that puts too hard an edge on it, let's say longing queries - about readers' inability to point friends to a particular post on the site. You've actually always been able to do so. But it's been complicated for a number of reasons.

Well, no more. See that little 'link' link up there by the date? Just click on that and it will take you to the precise URL for that particular post. Simple as that. And that link will stay current in the TPM archives permanently.

(There's no super-flashy graphical gizmo connected with this new feature since the calling card of TPM is elegant design minimalism.)

I've also gotten a number of questions from readers about whether TPM is going to start taking donations for the upkeep of the site like AndrewSullivan.com and Kausfiles are doing. Answer? I'm not sure. That's really not what I started this site for. But, hey, man does not live by buzz alone! So I'm thinking about it.

Haven't the Republicans in the House potentially opened up a big tactical opportunity for Democrats? The Bush tax bill is heavily tilted toward tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. But it does include meaningful cuts for many middle-income families. But the great proportion of those cuts aren't related to drops in marginal rates. They're tied to the expansion of the child tax credit from $500 to $1000.

The version of the tax bill currently racing through the House doesn't include that; and that makes the tax cut for middle-income families almost laughably paltry.