STATE HOUSE NEWS: Kerry blames “rigidity” for Washington troubles
As originally appearing in State House News Service


By Matt Murphy

SOUTH BOSTON, MARCH. 5, 2012…. Following moderate Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision not to seek reelection because of what she described as the increasingly polarized nature of the country’s capitol, U.S. Sen. John Kerry on Monday blamed the “ideological rigidity and stupidity” in Washington for blocking solid job creation measures like his proposal for an infrastructure bank.

“We can’t get the ideological gridlock out of the way when people just kneejerk respond to anything that comes from Obama or comes from the other side that has the idea the government might somehow help create a framework within which the private sector can be stronger,” Kerry said, speaking at a New England Council breakfast at the Seaport Hotel in South Boston.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said sanctions on Iran are working, urging all diplomatic options to be exhausted in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon before considering a military strike. “This is not the place for presidential candidates to play presidential politics,” Kerry said.

After jokingly thanking attendees for spending “$100 on gasoline to get here today,” he also said helping Libya resume oil production will ease rising gas prices, and he said “there may well be a moment where that’s appropriate” to release oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Kerry’s comments to the Bay State business executives came as Massachusetts voters prepare to head to the polls on Super Tuesday to vote in the presidential primary elections. Former Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to easily capture his home state, but is in a tight battle in Ohio and elsewhere with former Sen. Rick Santorum.

Snowe, a Republican from New England, announced last week she would not seek another term, citing the gridlock in Washington that has frequently left Democrats and Republicans unable to agree on policy and budget priorities.

Though Kerry said Snowe had become “tired and fed up with an orthodoxy of a caucus and a party that requires them to toe the line through absurdity,” he said he disagreed with assertions of some that the U.S. Senate is broken.

“It’s not the rules. It’s the people. It’s an attitude,” Kerry said, noting that former House Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan were able to work together under the same parliamentary rules being used to block legislation today.

However, Kerry himself in 2010 told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that he would vote for rules reform that would limit the ability of the minority in the Senate to filibuster, making it easier for the majority – currently the Democrats – to break a filibuster the longer it goes on.

While Republicans have complained that Democrats have refused to take deficit reduction seriously enough, Kerry said Democrats tried to compromise with Republicans during the Super Committee deliberations over deficit reductions, but the GOP refused to meet halfway.

“Because of an ideological rigidity and stupidity in Washington, we’re having an impossible time doing the most simple things in order to build our nation to be competitive, to do what every citizen in America wants us to do, which is to create jobs, and put people to work, and be strong,” he said.

Kerry used the example of a bill he filed with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) to create an infrastructure bank that he said would leverage $650 billion in private investment in the country’s infrastructure.

Lamenting that the United States spends less than 2 percent of gross domestic product on infrastructure while China spends 9 percent and Europe 5 percent, Kerry said every billion dollars could create 25,000 to 30,000 jobs. Kerry said he has spent the past two to three years working to address concerns over the bill, making sure the bank would be independent, subject to routine audits and limited to loans for transportation, energy and water projects.

“All we want is $10 billion. We spend $100 billion a year in Afghanistan. We just want $10 billion for America to start this bank up and then it will be self-financing,” Kerry said.

Responding to Kerry’s criticism, the Massachusetts Republican Party cited a Congressional Quarterly analysis showing Kerry voted with his fellow Democrats 97 percent of the time.

“Senator Kerry is correct: partisan gridlock is responsible for hindering progress in Washington, and with his 97 percent voting record with his party leaders, he is an offender-in-chief,” said Alleigh Marre, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Republican Party. “Our state and country need more elected officials focused on solving problems and making progress, and fewer hypocrites like Senator Kerry focused on throwing rocks at others.”

Kerry said the result of the partisan stalemate in Washington, which he blamed on a GOP focused on defeating President Obama at any cost, has been an uncertainty around the world about whether America can accomplish what it says it will and act when necessary.

“We’re sending a message of indecision, of gridlock, of weakness, of an inability to seize this global moment,” said Kerry. He said he thought “corporate America has done a brilliant job in these past years in making us more competitive than government has empowered you to be.”

Fielding a question from an audience member about President Obama’s speech over the weekend to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Kerry also said he agreed “strongly” with Obama’s approach toward Iran.

“This is a deadly serious confrontation, and my hope is and it’s beyond a hope, my belief is diplomacy can work here. I’m not going to go into it all but there are things, efforts going on to make sure diplomacy is fully exhausted,” Kerry said.

Kerry called the sanctions “biting.” “I heard that from everybody in the region and right now China and Japan and India are all sort of working on a way to reduce their dependency on Iranian oil without totally upsetting their own economies,” he said.

After wrapping his appearance in Boston, Kerry planned to visit Hanscom Air Force base with Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas in preparation for a possible new round of BRAC base-closure recommendations.

Though he said defense spending cuts will be necessary, he said he believed Hanscom and other facilities in Massachusetts could make a strong case for remaining because of their focus on technology and cutting-edge research that will be central to the military’s mission for coming generations.

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