LET’S SAY, with the deadline for a deficit deal fast approaching, you want to know what Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren think the congressional supercommittee should do.
That’s reasonable, right? Brown, after all, styles himself as an outspoken, independent-minded senator, while Warren portrays herself as a tough, intrepid truth teller.
So on Monday afternoon, I reached out to both Brown’s and Warren’s operations to request a brief phone interview. No one expects them to have their own detailed deficit-reduction plans, I noted, but I was interested in talking in broad terms about what they hoped to see. Things like, should the committee aim for a big package — that is, in the $4 trillion range — or be content with a smaller one? Should new revenues be included, and if so, in what rough proportion to spending cuts? I said I hoped to speak to each in the next couple of days.
Now, by way of context, a couple of weeks ago, when I requested an interview with Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss about the supercommittee, he was on the line within an hour or so. Republican Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho was just as easy to reach.
On Wednesday, when I called US Representative Barney Frank, he called back in about half an hour to give some of his thoughts on the deficit. Any package without substantial reductions in military spending would be a terrible deal, averred Frank, who favors higher taxes on Social Security benefits to upper earners, but not smaller cost-of-living increases, because that would hurt lower-income recipients. He backs a 5.6 percent surcharge on annual incomes of more than $1 million and wants to end the Bush tax cuts on income above, say, $300,000.
Now back to Brown and Warren. I contacted their aides again Tuesday. Marcie Kinzel, Brown’s spokeswoman, asked when I was writing for. Doug Rubin, Warren’s lead consultant, said he’d try to arrange an interview.
I checked in again on Wednesday. Kinzel said, by e-mail, that she would send me something. She did: a letter Brown and 44 other senators have signed that expresses support for a big deal and suggests, though only elliptically and with acres of wiggle room, that revenues should be on the table.
When I asked if her message was that Brown wouldn’t do an interview, Kinzel wrote, “I . . . believe that the letter that the senator signed provides the details which you are seeking.’’ In other words, no, he wouldn’t.
I initially suspected Warren’s camp was also trying to duck. Rubin said Warren didn’t have time to talk on Wednesday. Further, she was traveling yesterday, and the post-flight slot he offered clashed with my deadline.
But when I noted that problem, Warren found time to call between flights. She sidestepped on whether she favors a big or small deal, saying it all depends on how you get there. She wants to end federal tax subsidies for mature industries like the oil and pharmaceutical sectors and to close loopholes like those that let General Electric avoid paying any federal income tax in 2010. The defense budget should be scrutinized for savings, she said, and the Bush tax cuts “for the very wealthy’’ should be allowed to expire, though she declined to say, even broadly, where she would set the cutoff.
“I will not ask seniors and middle class families to shoulder these cuts,’’ she emphasized. “I wouldn’t cut Social Security or Medicare benefits or raise taxes on middle class people.’’
All in all, that’s pretty standard liberal fare. Unfortunately, her insistence that entitlement benefits and middle-class taxpayers escape unscathed isn’t realistic given the size of our long-term fiscal problems.
Still, give Warren credit for doing an interview on the thorny subject. That’s a refreshing contrast to Brown’s duck-and-cover style.
Sadly, this latest, well, Brown-out is typical of the senator’s cautious, calculating, stay-low-and-keep-quiet modus operandi on difficult issues. A skittish pol, he has developed a reputation for avoiding reporters and ducking tough questions.
Verdict: Warren wins round one of our “who seems more like a senator’’ series.