No doubt Sen. Michael Bennet was trying to buff up his bipartisan bona fides with his vote against the so-called fiscal-cliff “compromise” (which is really little more than a tax hike), but pardon us if we’re less than wowed.
Bennet, a Democrat, was one of just eight senators to vote “no” on the Senate-brokered deal, which passed with 89 votes in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Colorado’s junior senator said he objected to the proposal because it failed to reduce the budget deficit.
“For four years in my town hall meetings across the state Coloradans have told me they want a plan that materially reduces the deficit,” said Bennet in a statement. “This proposal does not meet the standard and does not put in place a real process to reduce debt down the road.”
He said he agreed with “many of the items in the proposal,” including extending unemployment insurance, the wind-production tax credit and “tax cuts for most Americans,” but that they should come in the context of a comprehensive deficit reduction package.”
Casting a vote at odds with one’s party is what passes for political courage in Washington, and it may even win Bennet a few votes down the road as he continues to position himself as a moderate Democrat who’s willing to buck the party tide.
The problem for Bennet is that he looks less like a courageous tide-bucker than a calculated political opportunist. For one, the outcome of the vote was never in doubt, which permitted the Senate Democratic leadership to loosen the chain on Democrats like Bennet for whom reelection isn’t a sure thing.
For another, Bennet never says how he would propose to reduce the deficit. In his statement, he never utters the word “spending” or suggests that cutting the size of government might be a good way to scale back the debt.
If he doesn’t support spending cuts, then the implication is that he supports a bigger tax hike than the one outlined in the Senate fiscal-cliff plan, which calls for raising taxes on those earning at least $450,000 per year. Of course, Bennet doesn’t say that, either.
“Putting the country on a sustainable fiscal path and bringing our debt under control is incredibly important to our economy and our standing in the world is a top priority for me,” said Bennet in his statement.
What isn’t a top priority for Bennet is explaining how he would accomplish this. Calling for entitlement reform and spending cuts, as House Republicans have done, would require a real act of political courage, given that Democrats have put the kabosh on any such discussion.
If Bennet, the newly minted DSCC chief, really is as moderate and bipartisan as he lets on, he could insist that his boss, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put meaningful spending reductions on the table for a vote.
But that, of course, hasn’t happened. Which suggests that Mr. Bennet’s purported independence is all for for show.