Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), the independent Democrat who has played roles in past Senate compromises, says President Obama needs to get more involved in the fiscal cliff talks.
Lieberman, who brought Republican senators on board with the 2009 economic stimulus package and a 2005 deal on judicial nominees, says it’s time for Obama to gather congressional leaders around a negotiating table.
“My impression also is that the Republicans who were there and our colleagues who heard about it felt it was a step back, the chemistry in the room was bad,” Lieberman said about the meeting between Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Geithner.
Lieberman said GOP colleagues are dismayed Obama gave them little credit for offering to increase tax revenues by $800 billion. Republicans say Geithner’s counter offer to raise taxes by $1.6 trillion and cut spending by $400 billion and enact $50 billion in new stimulus spending was not a serious proposal.
“They were frustrated so somebody’s got to come in, probably the president and sit everybody down at the same table and start working off the same sheets of paper soon,” he said.
Obama was in Pennsylvania on Friday to take his argument to voters, saying if Congress did not extend tax cuts for the middle class by January 1st, it would be like receiving a “lump of coal” for the holiday season.
“That's a Scrooge Christmas,” he noted.
The meeting between McConnell and Geithner on Thursday was a flop. The Weekly Standard, a conservative news magazine, reported that McConnell burst out laughing when he heard Geithner’s offer.
“There was definitely laughter in the room,” said a GOP aide familiar with the meeting. “As the leader has made clear, this was not a serious proposal.”
Republican leaders have called for more personal involvement from the president.
“Throughout the week I’ve raised questions about the president’s level of seriousness and engagement when it comes to resolving the short-and long-term fiscal challenges that we face,” McConnell said before the meeting. “I’ve done this because, as I’ve said repeatedly, the president is the key to success in all of these discussions.”
Lieberman noted time is running out on the negotiations. The Bush-era tax rates are set to expire and $110 trillion in spending cuts will take effect at the end of December.
Lieberman questioned the 4-1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts put forth by Geithner. He would prefer a ratio closer to the Simpson-Bowles plan. Analysts have described that plan as containing anywhere from a 3-1 to a 1.4-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, depending on the baseline used and whether interest savings are counted.
Lieberman thinks the ratio endorsed by Simpson-Bowles would be preferable to Geithner’s plan at a time when some fear the economy could slide back into recession.
“Generally speaking, I feel that the formula — the long-term, it doesn’t have to be immediate — that Simpson-Bowles establishes, which was more 3 to 1 spending cuts to tax increases, is a better standard,” he said.
“You also got to be careful about how much you raise taxes when the economy is still working its way out of recessions and some people think it may slide back down because of other factors,” he said.
Lieberman has been at the center for some of the Senate’s biggest compromises in recent years. He was a member of a group known as the Gang of 14, which in 2005 set the standard for filibustering judicial nominees. The deal kept then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) from triggering the nuclear option to strip Democrats of the power to block nominees.
In 2009, Lieberman helped reach agreement on Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package by working with the Democratic leadership to persuade centrist Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and former Arlen Specter (Pa.), then a Republican, to support it.