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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Beating a Dead Horse, or Changing Horses?

Thanks to Josh Marshall, I just read the Wednesday WaPo piece in which Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee called the Bush Social Security “reform” proposal a “dead horse” and suggested–well, a whole bunch of possibilities, ranging from a “broader review of the problems of an aging nation” to a replacement of the Social Security payroll tax with something or other. It was clear that Thomas hoped Bush would change the subject from Social Security to taxes, pronto.
Thomas is, of course, notorious for self-regard in a city and a Congress where the average time spent in front of a mirror each day is extremely high. But it’s a bit hard to believe the congressional GOP leadership and the White House have somehow forgotten to send Thomas, whose committee has primary jurisdiction over Social Security, the talking points on this subject, with a few pointed reminders that going “off-message” might incur some serious wrath. So his sudden “dead horse” comment represents either a general GOP admission, or at least an honest assessment of the politics of the thing at the moment.
What makes me itchy (perhaps because I blogged about it just a few hours ago) is the suspicion that Thomas, whose committee also governs all of us through the Internal Revenue Code, is signalling a long-planned GOP shift from Social Security “reform” to tax “reform,” with the intention of resuming the Bush administration’s Long March towards relieving wealthy Americans of any real tax obligations at all.
Ah, but it’s important to wield the wooden stake at the monster most at hand before picking up another, so I guess it’s an unambiguously good thing that Thomas has so quickly bailed on a proposal to do us dirt when we retire before considering what he has in store for us in the meantime.
POSTSCRIPT: Guess I’m really tired to have missed this point, but as the indefatigable Josh noted in an email, this stuff with Thomas is happening two days before Bush’s inaugural speech, which was probably put to bed more than a week ago so that W. could rehearse it to a fine, non-smirking state of resolute perfection. Unless we are really dealing with a GOP bait-and-switch plan that’s been laid out in (Mayberry) Machiavellian detail for months, Thomas has probably stomped all over Bush’s message at the worst possible time. Look for a retraction, in the form of a correction, by Thomas by sundown today, and then for a resumption of whatever he’s up to once the inaugural risers have come down.

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