Retiring U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman will be cutting his farewell diner tour short to return to Washington in the hope that Congress and the president will be able to strike a deal and avoid the fiscal cliff.
So far negotiations between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have been failed to yield a compromise to avoid the self-imposed combination of $7 trillion dollars in tax increases and spending cuts scheduled for the beginning of the year.
As he visited the Shady Glen Restaurant in Manchester on Wednesday, Lieberman said he hopes that changes soon.
“I’d hate to end my 24 years in a Congress that can’t do the most basic work we’re responsible for, which is to keep the government going and in this case to keep people’s taxes down,” he said.
Lieberman said Obama and Boehner have been pretty close to a deal in negotiations, but interests on both sides have tried to pull them apart for partisan and ideological reasons.
“The country’s got a problem. We’re in debt and we need to solve that problem. Everybody has to give a little and also take a little political risk for the good of the country,” he said. “I still think we can do it. That may mean we spend New Year’s Eve in Washington but that’s the price to pay.”
The farewell tour started Dec. 10 with a press conference at the state Capitol in Hartford where Lieberman called for an end to the Senate’s filibuster rule.
The idea behind the filibuster rule was that “by requiring a supermajority you stop an irrational passion,” Lieberman said earlier this month. “I haven’t seen too many passions, irrational or otherwise, sweep through Congress into law because of the inherent checks and balances in the system the Constitution created.”
Wednesday was to be the last day Lieberman tours diners around Connecticut as a U.S. Senator. He did not seek re-election this year. But chatting with the state’s residents as they eat their lunches has been a longstanding tradition for him over his more than two decades representing Connecticut.
In the past, Lieberman said his diner tours were an easy way to keep apprised of how people in the state were feeling and what they were concerned about. He said they gave him the opportunity to meet everyday people rather than the special interests that lobby in Washington.
Since he started the tradition, he said he’s stopped at more than 180 diners.
“That’s a lot of coffee and a lot of tuna sandwiches,” he said.
The messages he’s gotten from restaurant-goers have reflected the fears and interests of the times, he said.
“Over the years it’s changed depending on what’s going on. I mean the folks in the diner have been kind of an early warning system or at least an accurate reporting system of what people are worried about,” he said.
Back in the early 1990s, Lieberman said the people he talked to at restaurants were worried about crime. Later they expressed concern over former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings.
“Obviously, over the last three or four years it’s been mostly about the economy and how much people are suffering,” he said.
Lieberman likened the diner tours to polls. People have always relayed the same messages to him over lunch or breakfast as they have to pollsters, he said.
“They’re a lot less expensive than the pollster is,” he said.
But with his tenure as a senator almost over, Lieberman said he was visiting diners for a different reason this week.
“Well it’s sentimental. Basically the feeling I have is gratitude, which is why I wanted to come around to the diners today and say ‘Thank you’ to the people of Connecticut,” he said. “They’ve given me the incredible opportunity to be a U.S. Senator for 24 years.”
One of the people he stopped to speak with at Shady Glen was Rosemary Fahey of Manchester. Fahey said she had met Lieberman several times over the years, though she doubted he remembered her.
This time, the retiring senator stopped to shake her young grandson’s hand. Fahey said she liked that Lieberman remained a personable guy and said she thought he’d represented Connecticut well over his career.
“I think he’s been fair and square,” she said.
Click here to read about his diner stop in New Haven.