Sen. Whitehouse on the Left-Right Scale and Chafee on the Left

Ted Nesi has put up a post noting that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has pulled back from his two-year stint as the number 1 liberal to exact parity with Sen. Jack Reed, at 19th most liberal in the Senate.  The National Journal rankings assess the vote records of federal legislators.  Two years ago, the Senators tied for first place, but last year, Reed moderated his flight from the top, touching down on 10th.

The mix of issues facing Congress during any given year likely play a role in placing legislators along the scale, but such a huge swing — and the fact that Whitehouse and Reed tie on every category of issues: economic, social, and foreign — suggests that some political calculation might be involved, heading into an election year.  Be that as it may, a source who participated in a telephone town hall with Sen. Whitehouse on Wednesday evening portrays the Senator as unabashedly to the left.

According to the source’s notes, Whitehouse responded to a question about his repeated denunciations of “producers” and promotion of “envious class warfare” as follows:

It’s fair to tax the rich because their last dollar from earning 30 million is not as important to them as the last dollar is to the person earning 30K.

The American Tax code is progressive–those with “better fortune” have a “greater share of the wealth” and they need to be “fairer to the country that gave it to them.”

On U.S. competitiveness, Whitehouse expressed opposition to free trade, with hints of nationalism:

Sheldon said he will vote against all trade agreements and wants to change American tax policy so that businessmen are given penalties for having companies in other countries, rather than tax breaks. He disagrees with the recent ruling: he feels corporations are NOT people and will go for the bottom line over allegiance to the United States.

On term limits:

Sheldon is against them because the longer you are in office the more you “build real relationships with voters” — and more public standing you have to stand up to corporations. He again said that corporations aren’t people and wants to expose those who donate to groups with “phony baloney names: such as Citizen’s for Justice. He said we need to get to the source of the multinational corporations who fund advertising.

Asked about the price of home heating oil, Senator Whitehouse did not discuss the Obama administration’s policies on oil exploration and transport, but rather:

Sheldon said that a lot of politicians in Washington are beholden to the oil companies. Special interests get special deals and the bigger you are, the bigger the deal. So the American taxpayer has to suffer because Exxon gets tax subsidies and benefits. He’d like to pull these back.

Regarding the use of Social Security funds for other government expenditures, he explained that Americans shouldn’t worry about being paid because Americans have always paid their debt:

Sheldon said that Al Gore wanted a “lock box” on social security money but didn’t get elected. But not to worry because social security is safe–even though the money is not there, it’s got something just as good, the credit of the US–“we’ve never not made good.” Americans should get everything back. He says he was the founder for the Defense of Social Security to endure that seniors get their benefits.

On public infrastructure:

Sheldon discussed that the gas tax no longer covers the needed money to fix infrastructure because “American cars are way once efficient and getting way more mileage” and noted that we are moving toward Electric and Hybrid cars that are even better. So the gas tax may be obsolete to highway use. “People with higher income should pay more.”

And on the high cost of healthcare:

Sheldon said that our current health care system is like Orville Wright’s plane and we are heading in the direction of a 747. He wants to reduce paper records, organize specialists, get rid of added costs, keep people well and treat them at the first sign of illness. He said they are working very hard on it and this promises to “save 1 trillion dollars a year wasted” in the US Healthcare system.

Turning back to the National Journal rankings, reporter John Aloysius Farrell makes this interesting observation:

For the second year in a row but only the third time in the 30 years that National Journal has published these ratings, no Senate Democrat compiled a voting record to the right of any Senate Republican, and no Republican came down on the left of any Senate Democrat. (The first time this happened was 1999.)

This observation is especially relevant given the announced retirement of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, about which Nesi quotes Governor Lincoln Chafee as follows:

“Of the five members of the ‘Mod Squad’ [of ‘moderate’ Republicans] soon only one will remain a U.S. senator, and that says a great deal about the ways in which Washington and the Republican Party have changed,” Chafee told in a statement. The last remaining member is Collins, who was re-elected in 2008.

One could argue that Chafee — a co-chair for the reelection bid of President Obama, National Journal’s #1 liberal Senator for 2007 — is a bit skewed in his view.

(Note: A call to Whitehouse’s D.C. office seeking a transcript or recording was not returned.)