Politics & Policy

Liebernomics

Love him on the war, but Lieberman would make free-market fans tear their hair out.

Since his name was mentioned as a potential McCain running mate, most of the analysis about Joe Lieberman has focused on his relatively hawkish foreign-policy vision, and on his liberal positions on key social issues. Little noticed is the fact that on economic issues, like on social issues, Lieberman gives conservatives little to cheer.

In 2007, Club for Growth ranked him 77th out of 100 senators, with a score of 8 out of 100. In 2006 he fell two places, scoring a 1, and in 2005 he rose to 72nd with a 3. In 2007, Americans for Tax Reform gave him 5 out of 100. That year the National Taxpayer’s Union gave him an F. By contrast, the Citizens for Tax Justice, a research and advocacy organization that supports “requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share,” rated him 80 percent for the 2005-2006 term.

His ratings from pro-business organizations are also consistently low: The Business-Industry Political Action Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the National Small Business Association, and Americans for Prosperity have ranked him below 50 percent, usually in the 20s in recent years.

Last year he voted to expand the S-CHIP program (which provides insurance to children at taxpayer expense), and to make up the budget difference with a 61 cent increase in the federal tobacco tax. He voted to increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, and opposed every Republican effort to link the wage hike to tax relief for small businesses. He voted against raising the estate-tax exemption to $5 million, and opposed reducing the estate tax itself to 35 percent. The preceding year, he opposed permanently repealing the estate tax and extending the Bush tax cuts.

Running for reelection in 2006, he touted his steadfast opposition to “privatizing” Social Security. He had, before the 2000 election, indicated some openness to allowing workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in markets, but never gave any details or offered his own plan. When primary rival Ned Lamont hit him on earmarks, Lieberman replied, “there are earmarks that are good,” and touted ones he had secured to reduce congestion on I-95 and fund ferry service to Bridgeport. Also in that race, he touted a “50 percent Excess Profits Tax on oil companies for really undeserved profits.”

Lieberman’s campaign for president in 2003 and 2004 struck a variety of populist poses and emphasized the Democrats’ favorite storyline of plutocrats — a.k.a “the rich” — raping and pillaging the American countryside in the manner of Genghis Khan.

In 2003, during a Democratic presidential debate at Pace University, he offered an economic prescription that was indistinguishable from his rival, Howard Dean’s: “There’s a loss of confidence in the American economy, and part of it is because of the culture of greed and irresponsibility. And at the top of that, unfortunately, is the president of the United States. He’s taken our government into terrible debt. His administration has yielded to special interests over and over again. Halliburton writes the specs and then gets the no-bid contracts. In the Bush administration, the foxes are guarding the foxes and the middle-class hens are getting plucked.” Statements like that would almost certainly show up in DNC ads if McCain picked Lieberman as his running mate.

As a presidential candidate, Lieberman not only pledged to reinstate the 39.6 percent top marginal tax rate that the Bush tax cuts lowered to 35 percent, but wanted to “apply a 5 percent surtax to all married couples with adjusted gross incomes of about $250,000 and higher (and the equivalent income level for single filers).” He supported raising CAFÉ standards to 40 mpg, and still opposes drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (as does McCain).

As Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, Lieberman hit Bush and Cheney hard on their tax cuts: “This is a question of priorities. Our opponents want to use America’s hard-earned surplus to give a tax break to those who need it least at the expense of all our other needs. Under their plan, the middle class gets a little . . . and the wealthy get a lot. Their tax plan operates under that old theory that the best way to feed the birds is to give more oats to the horse. We see the surplus through a different set of eyes, the eyes of working middle-class families.”

Going back even more, Lieberman opposed almost every Republican cut in taxes and spending in the late 1990s. In 1997, he opposed the Balanced-Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which fell short by one vote. He opposed Don Nickles’s efforts to adopt an across-the-board cut in all discretionary funding. He opposed efforts to require a super-majority to raise taxes.

Lieberman’s economic positions aren’t relentlessly liberal. He is generally a free trader and voted in favor of NAFTA, defending it on the campaign trail in 2004. (He said that Dean’s insistence that every U.S. trade partner have equivalent labor and environmental standards would turn “the Bush recession into the Dean Depression.”) He defended international trade in his primary battle with Lamont.

None of this is to say that Republicans can’t like Joe Lieberman, or that he wouldn’t make a fine Secretary of State or Defense. But there is every reason to think he would govern as a liberal on economic issues.

– Jim Geraghty writes the “Campaign Spot” blog on NRO.

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