One Nation Under Debt

Published — August 10, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

John Kerry, Dem appointee to Super Congress, has record of working across the aisle

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts J. Scott Applewhite/AP


In a quarter century in the Senate, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts has made the transformation from a brash young iconoclast to respected senior statesman. He brings the liberal bona fides of a former Democratic presidential candidate to the Super Congress deliberations and a less-heralded but successful record at enlisting and working with Republican colleagues on thorny issues.

On several occasions in his career, Kerry has shown the willingness to stray from Democratic Party orthodoxy—on affirmative action, education and notably, given this newest assignment, on a balanced budget amendment, welfare reform and tax issues affecting business, research and capital gains. He serves on the Finance Committee, has chaired small business and commerce panels in the Senate, and has a thorough knowledge of the international economy from his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But Kerry’s progressive Massachusetts constituency, and his personal sensitivity to criticism, has sometimes led him to retreat from his more provocative positions, and fed criticism that he tries too hard to be all things to all people. That critique cost him dearly when he ran for president in 2004, and was famously captured when he explained an evolving position on the Iraq war by saying, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”

Inside the Senate club, the tall military veteran with aristocratic ancestry and a billionaire wife has shown a knack for cutting deals with his Republican colleagues, even conservatives like former Republican Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Bob Smith of New Hampshire. Kerry’s most famous collaboration is his long-running friendship with GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a fellow Vietnam veteran. Together, they helped heal many of the wounds left by that war, and provided former President Bill Clinton the political cover to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

When called on, in an Aug. 7 appearance on NBC News’ Meet the Press, Kerry outlined an economic program that, he stressed, had bipartisan appeal.

“Number one, we’ve got to deal with this debt and deficit, send Wall Street and the marketplace a message that the United States of America is deadly serious about dealing with this long-term structural debt,” Kerry said.

In the short term, said Kerry, Congress should adopt bipartisan Senate bills to invest in highways and other infrastructure, relieve the regulatory burden on business, and “cut waste” in government. Republicans and Democrats need to abandon their “hard positions,” said Kerry and reach the kind of $4 trillion grand bargain that was considered in the recent debt negotiations, with budget cuts and a recognition that, via tax hikes or the closing of tax loopholes, “we needed to do some revenue.”

Top PAC Contributors:

  • Raytheon Company, one of the largest defense contractors in the country — at least $20,000
  • BNSF Railway, one of the largest railway companies in the country — at least $16,000
  • The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the trade group for the cable industry — at least $15,000
  • Union Pacific Corporation, another major railroad operator — at least $15,000
  • Norfolk Southern, a major rail transportation company — at least $15,000
  • CSX Corporation, a freight transporter — at least $15,000
  • PACs gave at least $611,000 to Kerry’s campaign account and his Campaign for Our Country PAC.

Revolving Door:

  • James A. Hunter is Government Relations Director with Arent Fox, a major lobbying firm. He spent almost six years in Kerry’s office, focusing on transportation and homeland security issues, among others.
  • Johanna M. Kreisel is an associate with Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville, a DC based law firm. A former health care legislative assistant with Kerry, Kreisel now lobbies on behalf of the Orthotic & Prosthetic Alliance.
  • Barry LaSala works at Elmendorf Ryan, where he lobbies on a variety of issues. He was Kerry’s Counsel for five years. Among the companies he lobbies for are Microsoft, Union Pacific, and Facebook.

Statements on Super Congress:

  • Kerry, in a joint statement with Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Patty Murray announcing their appointment, said he looks “forward to working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers to address these issues in a balanced, pragmatic and practical way.”

  • Kerry said on Meet the Press on Sunday, discussing the economy. “I believe this is, without question, the ‘tea party downgrade,’” he said, but later added that “we have to be statesmen here. We have to find the happy middle ground of compromise and common sense.”

Read more in Money and Democracy

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