Lieberman refuses to campaign for Democratic majority

CROMWELL — U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman said today he won’t take sides in the race between Richard Blumenthal and Linda McMahon, but he hopes the Democrats retain a majority in the Senate — if only so he can keep his committee chairmanship.

Lieberman said he won’t campaign for the Democratic majority to which he belongs, nor will he make the case publicly that Democratic policies are preferable to those of the GOP, another sign that Lieberman would not run as a Democrat if he seeks another term in 2012.

“Here’s where I become an independent,” said Lieberman, who remained a member of the Democratic caucus after his re-election as an independent in 2006. “I have a feeling now that both parties have let the country down.”

He made his remarks after a speech to the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce in which he called for extending all the Bush tax cuts for one year.

Lieberman applauded House Republican Leader John Boehner’s new willingness to support an extension of middle-class tax cuts, even if Democrats refuse Republican demands to extend the cuts for higher-income taxpayers.

But Lieberman questioned if Democrats and Republicans would craft a compromise that would neutralize one of the season’s hottest issues.

“The political logic in some ways on both sides argues against it,” Lieberman said. “I think sometimes some Democrats would like to not have this argument go away, because they want to be able to say, ‘Aw Republicans are blocking tax cuts for the middle class just to protect the rich.’ “

Lieberman said he has decided against endorsing anyone in the hotly contested race between Blumenthal, the Democratic attorney general, and McMahon, a Republican seeking office for the first time,  to succeed the Connecticut’s senior senator, Democrat Christopher J. Dodd.

“I’ve decided it’s better for me to concentrate on being a senator, not get involved in any of the political campaigns in Connecticut this year,” said Lieberman, who says he wants to be in a position to unify the delegation as the next senior senator. “That’s my decision, and I’m enjoying it.”

But the $77,500 that Lieberman’s political action committee, Reuniting Our Country, has given to Senate candidates this cycle has all gone to Democrats, including $10,000 to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and $5,000 to Dodd. He also has given $32,500 to House Democrats and $5,000 to one Republican, U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York.

In 2008, his PAC gave $57,500 to Senate Democrats and $15,000 to two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon.

Today, Lieberman said he doesn’t believe any Senate Republicans have sought a donation from him.

Lieberman, who was re-elected in 2006 as an independent after losing a Democratic primary, offered no rationale for rooting for Democrats other than his own standing in the Senate.

“I got elected as an independent, but I’ve cast my lot with the Democratic caucus, and, so obviously, I hope there is a Democratic majority in the Senate after this election, because this directly relates to my ability to do things for the state,” he said.

Told of Lieberman’s remarks, U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, said, “I think Lieberman’s auditioning for the Republican Party.”

Lieberman made his comments after telling the chamber that he favored extending all the so-called Bush tax cuts as a means to shore up a fragile economic recovery.

“We cannot risk the economic headwinds that would be caused by tax increases,” he said.

He defended the stimulus packages passed under President Bush in 2008 and President Obama in 2009.

Lieberman said Congress eventually will have to focus on deficit reduction, but he prefers to see the priority for the next year remain stabilizing and growing the economy, which he fears would be undermined by a sudden reining in of federal spending or increase in federal taxes.

He said that Boehner, an Ohio congressman who is the House minority leader, made a significant gesture over the weekend by dropping his all-or-nothing stance on extending the tax cuts that are to expire at the end of the year.

“But here Boehner opened the door, and I hope Democrats and Republicans will accept, go through the door with him and finally get something done for most of America,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman, who is returning to Washington today after the end of the summer recess, said he expects the immediate focus will be on the leader of the Senate Republican minority, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“That’s the interesting drama in our story today and tomorrow, which is what will Senator McConnell do on John Boehner’s statement yesterday,” Lieberman said. “I think if Sen. McConnell agrees, we can extend most of the tax cuts for at least a year, then leave us to argue about higher income tax cuts and the estate tax in the lame-duck session.

“That would be a significant breakthrough.”