Sen. John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Senate Finance chair backs budget action on fossil fuel subsidies Kerry: 'We can't get where we need to go' in climate fight if China isn't joining in MORE’s appointment to the debt-reduction supercommittee is his big moment to shine as a dealmaker and silence critics who have questioned his modest record of legislative accomplishments.
Kerry’s opportunity, however, is troubling to some liberal leaders and labor union officials who worry that the senior Democrat from Massachusetts might be too eager to strike a grand bargain.
The most significant legislative victory of Kerry’s career came last year when he shepherded the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty through the Senate despite the strong opposition of GOP leaders.
But a bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion or more, which is the task of the 12-member supercommittee established last week, would be an accomplishment on a much higher order of significance.
“Kerry’s got a bipartisan track record on issues big and small, including building consensus on issues that had defied all consensus,” said Jodi Seth, Kerry’s spokeswoman.
“From working with [Sen.] John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhoopi Goldberg signs four-year deal with ABC to stay on 'The View' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden MORE [(R-Ariz.)] to bridge differences on Vietnam, to ratifying the New START Treaty last year when it was supposedly doomed, Sen. Kerry has been reaching across the aisle and forging tough compromises throughout his entire career,” she added. “He knows how to get things done.”
Kerry is one of six senators on the panel. The others are Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBiden nominates Nicholas Burns as ambassador to China Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bottom line MORE (D-Mont.), Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBuilding strong public health capacity across the US Texas abortion law creates 2022 headache for GOP Top Democrat says he'll push to address fossil fuel tax breaks in spending bill MORE (D-Wash.), Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMajor US port target of attempted cyber attack Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Officials urge Congress to consider fining companies that fail to report cyber incidents MORE (R-Ohio).
Colleagues and Senate aides see Kerry as eager to be part of a significant legislative achievement, and that concerns liberal groups and labor unions. They fear Republican members of the supercommittee could cut entitlement programs.
Kerry inflamed those anxieties over the weekend during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He spoke favorably of a grand bargain that President Obama and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) had tried to reach, noting it would have included “a mix of reductions and, and reforms in Social Security.”
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Kerry alarmed liberals by repeating the standard argument of Washington’s deficit hawks.
“The real problem for our country is not the short-term debt. We can deal with that. It's the long-term debt. It's the structural debt of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid measured against the demographics of our nation,” Kerry said.
Some liberals were not pleased with Kerry’s selection.
“Like President Obama, Kerry is fatally attracted to the notion of a grand bargain, sacrificing cuts in Medicare and Social Security in exchange for increased revenues to reduce long-term deficits. And he is simply wrong-headed about what the nation must do in order to get the economy on track,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive advocacy group.
Alan Charney, policy and strategy director of USAction, said Kerry’s selection raised eyebrows among liberal groups.
“Kerry is a little bit of a surprise to many of us. He hasn’t really been a central player in taxes and revenues,” he said.
Charney said Democratic lawmakers representing the liberal position on the supercommittee cannot agree to cut entitlement programs.
“My bottom line, if Sen. Kerry’s position on this new committee is such that he is for entitlement cuts, then he can’t be someone who represents the progressive liberal viewpoint on this committee,” he said. “It seems he’s open to cuts in entitlements. If that’s the case he’s going against the cardinal liberal principle in this debate of no cuts to entitlements.
Kerry’s spokeswoman defended her boss from the criticisms.
“Senator Kerry’s record speaks for itself and groups on both sides would do well to keep their comments to themselves,” Seth said.
Kerry reached his height of political fame when he won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, narrowly losing the presidency to George W. Bush by 119,000 votes in Ohio.
Bush officials criticized him during the campaign for having few legislative accomplishments. Seven years ago, Kerry was more known for congressional oversight activities than passing laws. One of his biggest legislative achievements was a law to protect marine mammals from commercial fishing.
He made a name for himself soon after winning election to the Senate by heading a fact-finding mission to Nicaragua in the mid 1980s that ultimately led to the Senate’s Iran-Contra hearings.
In the early 1990s, he and McCain made frequent trips to Vietnam to pursue rumors that American prisoners of war were still in captivity years after the war had ended. Kerry and McCain disproved the rumors and advocated for normalized relations with the country, something former President Clinton finally approved on July 11, 1995.
Since losing to Bush in 2004, Kerry has focused more on the art of compromise and passing major legislation.
The biggest example of this is the comprehensive climate change bill he negotiated with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.). Colleagues considered it a valiant effort, but the bill never came close to passing.
Labor unions are still leery of Kerry because of the role he played in helping to pass the 2010 healthcare reform law.
Kerry’s major contribution then was to propose an excise tax on costly healthcare plans as a mechanism for raising revenue and curbing the long-term cost of healthcare.
His proposal helped persuade Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (D-La.) and other centrist Democrats to support the bill, but labor unions and their allies in the House Democratic Caucus hated it.
Kerry has defied liberal orthodoxy several other times in his long career.
He voted for the welfare reform bill in 1996, which many liberals hated. He also has a record of supporting free-trade pacts, including the North America Free Trade Agreement, which labor unions and many liberals staunchly opposed and now consider a failure.