A war hero who served in combat in Vietnam, Senator John Kerry’s formal political career began in 1971 when he helped organize the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. A Yale graduate from a prominent family, he did not fit the profile of a typical combat veteran. He gained national recognition when, in Congressional testimony he asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?” Trying to capitalize on this momentum, he ran for Congress in 1972 and lost. Instead of Congress, Kerry went to law school.
After serving as a prosecutor, he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1992 on the Dukakis ticket. Two years later, he won his seat in the Senate. He has since been re-elected twice, surviving an extremely close race in 1996 against the popular Republican Governor William Weld, when after an acrimonious and expensive campaign, voters returned Kerry to Washington with 52 percent of the vote. Senator Kerry made a name for himself in Congress as a free-trade Democrat and by creating a reputation as a hardnosed investigator of government fraud and abuse.
On CSE Key Votes, Kerry voted with the ultraliberal Senator Edward Kennedy over 94% of the time over his Senate Career.
John Kerry loves taxes, but not tax reform. His voting record over the past few years does not have a single vote for meaningful tax reform or tax relief. In the Clinton years he voted for the biggest tax increase in American history. In 1998 Kerry even voted against requiring a supermajority to raise taxes to ensure that it would continue to be easy to pursue his tax and spend agenda.
Like a typical big spender, Kerry voted no to across the board spending cuts in 1999, and in the same year against reducing all marginal rates by 10 percent. He has voted at least three times against reducing or eliminating the marriage penalty. In 2001 he voted to reduce the marriage penalty as a trade off for not cutting the marginal rates. That same year he voted to increase the standard deduction for college tuition and student loans, but at the cost of limiting the cut in the death tax to 53 percent. In fact, his record on taxes is so bad that his no vote against President Bush’s 2001 tax cut was his tenth vote against major tax relief.
In April of 2002, Kerry seemed to reverse his long held stance and called for a tax cut even larger than the one passed in 2001 and said, “I’m not in favor of running around today and repealing it” (CNN’s “Crossfire,” April 16, 2002). However, in December he flip flopped and decided that a bigger tax cut, “doesn’t make economic sense” (NBC’s “Meet the Press,” December 1, 2002). Kerry’s voting record on taxes reveals him as a typical northeastern tax and spend liberal not interested in giving American families control over more of their hard earned income.
Kerry is a supporter of raising the minimum wage, despite the fact that this policy hurts small businesses as labor costs rise. This costs jobs at the lower end of the pay scale and locks less-skilled labor out of the workplace, and drives up the costs of goods and services for all other workers.
Kerry is not interested in saving the broken Social Security system. He voted against both a lockbox program, which would have placed limits on the national debt, and against creating Personal Retirement Accounts (PRAs). He also voted against allowing Social Security payments to be deducted from income tax. Current policy taxes the taxes (“contributions”) Americans pay into the Social Security program, amounting to a regressive double tax.
Kerry did sign a document entitled “A New Agenda for a New Decade” that stated, “Social Security, for example, needs a stronger basic benefit to bolster its critical role in reducing poverty in old age.” CSE agrees, if by this Kerry recognizes the need for structural reform like PRAs or Retirement Savings Accounts like the ones proposed by President Bush. However, Kerry has voted at least five times to raid the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for bigger government.
In 1998 Kerry “decried the ‘implosion’ of public education and said it was caused not just by overcrowded classrooms but also by the ‘stifling bureaucracy’ of school systems”(Barone’s The Almanac of American Politics). However, Kerry has voted to create smaller class sizes, despite acknowledging that there are other factors causing poor educational performance. He also voted twice against creating Educational Savings Accounts that would have helped low-income families pay for educational expenses, and against a demonstration voucher program for the District of Columbia. Yet, notwithstanding his anti-school choice votes, in “A New Agenda for a New Decade” he signed his name in support of charter schools and giving parents the choice of which public schools to send their children. He clearly opposes any system that incorporates private education into the nation’s plan for reforming the educational system.
Kerry’s record on welfare reform is fairly strong. He voted to overhaul Welfare in 1995. In 1996 he voted in favor of giving the states block grants to run their own state specific welfare programs. He did, however, vote to continue to administer the food stamps program from the federal level instead of giving states a block grant to do it themselves if they met certain criteria.
Kerry’s record on tort reform is mixed. Although not a strong advocate like Lieberman, Kerry voted in 1995 to make it harder for shareholders to file frivolous class action lawsuits against chief executives. However, in 1996 he voted against limiting product liability punitive damages. Kerry has not taken a stance on tort reform very often, but it appears that he is undecided as to which side of the debate he is going to land on. Although the largest contributors to his campaign are lawyers, he is certainly better than his fellow Democratic challenger and colleague, Senator Edwards, on this issue.
John Kerry is a strong advocate of free trade, and as such he has often alienated the labor unions who support the Democratic Party. He supported the expansion of H1-B visas to allow more professionals to immigrate to the United States, and he encouraged Clinton to lift export barriers on encryption and high performance computers. He has also voted for Permanent Normal Trading Relations with China and fought against an amendment that would have required such status to depend on a review of China’s human rights. As a decorated veteran of Vietnam, he was integral in passing Normal Trading Relations with Vietnam. He also voted to expand trade with many countries in Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean, and he has been a consistent supporter of fast track and trade promotion authority. Unlike Rep. Dick Gephardt, who rarely supports free trade, and Senator John Edwards, who does so when it is politically convenient, Kerry’s record on free trade is nearly blemish free.
ADA – Americans for Democratic Action
ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union
AFS – American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees
LCV – League of Conservation Voters
CON – Concord Coalition
ITIC – Information Technology Industry Council
NTU – National Taxpayers Union
COC – Chamber of Commerce of the United States
ACU – American Conservative Union
NTLC – National Tax-Limitation Committee
CHC – Christian Coalition