Sen. Lieberman says farewell at Shady Glen
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Dec. 27, 2012
As Sen. Joseph Lieberman's 24 years representing Connecticut in the U.S. Senate come to an end, he spent most of Wednesday, Dec. 26, visiting some of the diners he frequented during his term in a "Farewell Diner Tour." His tour brought him to Shady Glen in Manchester just in time for the lunch-time rush.
He stopped to chat with diners before speaking with reporters at a booth. Lieberman thanked the people of Connecticut for the “incredible opportunity to be a senator in the United States,” he said. The opportunity was particularly meaningful to Lieberman, who grew up in Stamford with parents who did not have the chance to go to college.
Lieberman began the tradition of frequenting diners to meet “regular people” - “not organized interest groups come to speak with a senator” - 23 years ago. He has since been to more than 180 diner stops. “That's a lot of tuna sandwiches,” he said.
He learned a lot from the people he met at diners, who acted as a barometer of public opinion. “The people in the diners are basically telling me the same message that the polls are telling me, and they’re a lot less expensive,” he said.
The senator explained that he was heading for Washington that afternoon, as the Senate began a session on Thursday, Dec. 27, in an effort to reach a resolution to the looming “fiscal cliff” issue. “Hopefully we’ll get this problem solved before New Year’s Eve,” he said.
Lieberman sees negotiations between President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner as threatened by interest groups. “I think there are groups behind both of them that are trying to pull it apart for what I consider ideological or partisan reasons,” he said. “The country’s got a problem. We’re in debt. We have to begin to solve that problem and everybody has to give a little, and also take a little political risk for the good of the country.”
“I’d hate to end my 24 years in a Congress that can’t do the most basic work that we’re responsible for, which is to keep government going, and in this case to keep taxes down,” he said.
Asked if he regretted his opposition to the public option in the healthcare reform bill, the senator defended his stance. “I felt that healthcare reform is very important, primarily to cover the millions of people in America who don’t have health insurance, and to end some of the unfair practices by insurance companies, like not covering pre-existing illnesses,” he said. “But I’ve always been opposed to what I call a ‘government-operated healthcare system,’ for two reasons: I don’t think the healthcare will be that good, and secondly, it will put the government more into debt than we are now.”
As times changed, he noted that the concerns he heard in diners such as Shady Glen have changed as well. “The folks I have met at the diners have been an early warning system, or at least an accurate reporting system of what people are worried about,” he said. During the '90s, for example, crime and the budget debt were huge concerns of citizens. Many also believed that President Clinton’s personal problems should not have overshadowed the work he was doing as president. Now, talks in diners usually turn to one thing: the economy.
“I actually think the state and national economies are coming out of the hole we were in, and if we could only get the federal government to act to balance our budget better, I think the economy is going to take off,” he said.
A server brought coffee for him and his wife, Hadassah. His term ends Wednesday, Jan. 2.
“I’ll be around Connecticut, but this is the last week as a senator,” he said.