Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 14, 2009

LIEBERMAN HOLDS HEALTH CARE REFORM HOSTAGE.... Just six days ago, there was an apparent breakthrough. Center-left and center-right Dems had crafted a compromise framework, effectively trading a watered-down public option for a Medicare buy-in. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters last Tuesday night that the compromise "has something that we think should satisfy everybody."

Well, not everybody. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who said he'd join a Republican effort to kill health care reform if the bill included a public option, now says he'll join a Republican effort to kill health care reform if the bill includes a Medicare buy-in.

Lieberman's position came as a surprise to Reid, considering the self-described Independent Democrat was among the first people Reid spoke to about the Medicare provision when it was discussed by a Democratic group of centrists and liberals attempting to craft a compromise that could secure the votes of all 60 Members of the Democratic Conference. At the time, Lieberman "voiced support" for the plan, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide. [...]

"It's all coming down to one guy who's prepared to vote against the interests of children and families in Connecticut who need health care reform," said one Senate Democratic leadership aide, referring to Lieberman.

The aide indicated that Reid was angry about the turn of events, considering Reid has essentially already agreed to eliminate the bill's public health insurance option based on Lieberman and other centrists' opposition.

Keep in mind, the Senate has been in a holding pattern, waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score the compromise framework. Lieberman made clear yesterday that he considers the score irrelevant.

In other words, it doesn't matter if reform would cut costs or lower the deficit. It doesn't matter if reform would save thousands of lives, bring security to tens of millions, and extend coverage to tens of millions more. It doesn't matter if reform would help businesses and improve wages. What matters is Joe Lieberman's opposition to expanding Medicare and public-private competition. And why, pray tell, does Lieberman care more about eliminating these provisions than the health care needs of Americans? No one really knows -- his vehement, unyielding opposition does not appear to be based on any identifiable policy goals.

Regardless, if he doesn't get what he wants, Lieberman will kill the bill*, this once-in-a-generation opportunity will disappear, and after having come this close to passing, health care reform will stumble just feet from the finish line.

What's more, while last week's compromise appears to have 58 votes, getting to 60 votes on this version now appears impossible. In addition to Lieberman, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) won't support a bill with a Medicare buy-in, and yesterday, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) also signaled his opposition, saying that expanding Medicare may be "the forerunner of single payer, the ultimate single-payer plan."

And because the Senate has become twisted, legislation with 58 supporters and 42 opponents necessarily can't even get a vote.

* In case there's any confusion here, Lieberman is talking not just about the legislation, but about cloture. He'd side with Republicans to kill the bill, and side with Republicans to deny the bill a vote.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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It's quite simple, really; he's still pissed off about the liberals trashing him in his re-election bid in 2006. It's strictly personal, and that's all that matters to him.

What's stunning is that the Democratic leadership is "stunned" by this.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on December 14, 2009 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

What about the nuclear option that the Republicans raised a few years back to force an up or down vote on W's judicial nominees?

Posted by: Ian on December 14, 2009 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

This is ridiculous. Time to call the bluff and actually make the Repugs (and Lieberman is a Republican, let's call a spade a spade) filibuster. It's a gamble, sure, but politically the Dems are getting killed with the public perception of dithering incompetence. Let's see an honest to god filibuster that goes through all of the holidays.

Posted by: noogs on December 14, 2009 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

Yep. Thats the big news. Lieberman is an unbelievable prick but hey, everyone not in the Senate Democratic caucus were already well aware of that. Perhaps this will clarify it for those august Senators as well now.

In a larger context, I would say that the Senate now has to realize its at a crossroads. It can fade into irrelevancy as a governing body which will always be held hostage by self-righteous tools like Lieberman or it can radically change their procedural rules for good. I don't know if that means dumping the filibuster altogether or some more moderate approach like the one Rockerfeller has proposed. And of course, this comes with some major risk with regard to what Republicans will do with similar power once they have the majority. But the bottom line is that they wll never achieve anything significant again if they continue down the current path with the current voting rules. Their choice.

Posted by: brent on December 14, 2009 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

I think somebody needs to look very closely at Droopy's financial ties to the health insurance/health delivery industries. This is his last term in the Senate; he could be going out like a hero, but instead he's willing to be the most hated man in Connecticut. Doesn't that imply that somebody is paying him off? The alternative is that he actually has principles, and I have to say, I find that rather hard to believe.

Posted by: Harlow Wilcox on December 14, 2009 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

"Well, not everybody. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who said he'd join a Republican effort to kill health care reform if the bill included a public option, now says he'll join a Republican effort to kill health care reform if the bill includes a Medicare buy-in."

Then boot him out and let him official join his beloved Republicans. He's useless to the Democrats and actually, even more of liability attached to them. Strip him of his chairmanship and tell him to get out.

Pass the damn thing with reconcilliation and get it over with.

Posted by: SaintZak on December 14, 2009 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Gee, the Senator from Insurance is trying to kill the health care reform bill? What a shocker! What's next? Lobbyists having influence? The sun rising in the east?

Kick him out of the caucus, take away his gavel, and move his office into a broom closet. It's obvious he's not going to support the party when it needs him, so why should the party give him any support?

Posted by: bleh on December 14, 2009 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure this is somehow the fault of the dirty fucking hippies.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on December 14, 2009 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

The alternative is that he actually has principles

The thing is, even if we were to accept that, as you say, unlikely possibility, then what would those principles be exactly. Lieberman has yet to construct a consistent and plausible rationale for his behavior on this issue. Frankly, he doesn't even seem to have the barest understanding of how the legislation is supposed to work. So I will begin to believe he is principled when he actually bothers to explain his opposition in a coherent way. Until then...

Posted by: brent on December 14, 2009 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

Is there any way for his constituents to recall him short of impeachment?

Posted by: candideinnc on December 14, 2009 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

At this point, the US government is simply dead in the water, and it's very hard to see how it will get moving again.

Posted by: SqueakyRat on December 14, 2009 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

ANYONE who can count and has been listening to the "actual words" of the gang of DOG DEMS (HELLLLOOOO braindead media) should not be surprised by LIEberman's most recent attempt to have the world looking at HIM!!! I'd say that Congress and the Administration has let this fiasco play out way too long...IF there is some solution to getting ANY reform (reconciliation???) then a FINAL bill should be simplified in language all can understand and rammed through while REPUGLICANS sit by with their mouths open (media too) and LIEberman is dumped from his chairmanship and shunned by ALL in the "gentleman's club" as he will surely be by the voters in his "home state" - course he will always have the insurance industry!!!!

Posted by: Dancer on December 14, 2009 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with Noogs. Don't let a cloture vote kill the bill. If Lieberman and the other Republicans want to continue to debate, CONTINUE TO DEBATE. Let's hear all their principled positions, their overarching concerns for the health and safety of their constituents, and the long-term fiscal survival of the Republic. Let them talk until they are blue in the face, but don't let them kill this process.

Posted by: kevmo on December 14, 2009 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Is there any way for his constituents to recall him short of impeachment?

Legislators can't be impeached, executive branch and judges only. And there's no Federal recall provision.

Short answer, no, not this side of being removed from office by his fellow Senators, as was done in my youth to Adam Clayton Powell, and Ozzy Myers during ABSCAM. I think Harrison Williams jumped before he could be pushed.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 14, 2009 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

In prior post, for 'Senators' read 'legislators'....

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 14, 2009 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

IF there is some solution to getting ANY reform (reconciliation???) then a FINAL bill should be simplified in language all can understand and rammed through while REPUGLICANS sit by with their mouths open

Like I said, there is really no solution under the current rules. Reconciliation is not set up to handle anything like this and was always more of a threat than any sort of real solution. The only feasible option is to change the rules and make the filibuster irrelevant. The downside is that it comes with some significant risk.

Posted by: brent on December 14, 2009 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously, the people that keep crowing about reconciliation need to STOP. It is not the magic bullet you think it is. Take Bush's tax cuts that were passed in such a manner and sunset next year...because bills passed this way sunset within 5 YEARS.

Do any of you really think that given the trajectory we're on that this isn't going to be a problem? Sure, ram through healthcare reform and by the time it all kicks in all the voters will see is that their premiums went up and they were forced to keep it or pay a fine. Republicans will pull the same shit with that as they have been all along.

And then they will sweep back into power on a raft of misinformation while raping the carcass of the soon to be sunseted pile of shit called reform. Democrats will lose their biggest cause and nobody will want to hear about it again for decades.

Maybe it seems like a good short term victory, but it will be a disaster in the long term.

Posted by: John S. on December 14, 2009 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Well, maybe it's time for the Democrat "Leadership",
and Obama to really LEAD the fight.
The goal is clear: "Change we can believe in" and no big change ever happens without a fight.
The first step is also obvious: Install some discipline among the Dems Senators and Reps by punishing the traitors.
I, for one, would help them elected again if they go down fighting but not if they compromise with their internal and external ennemies.

Posted by: Yoni on December 14, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

Can Connecticut citizens form a class action lawsuit to force that prick to represent them rather than the insurance companies?

Posted by: wbn on December 14, 2009 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

The fact is that not Obama, not FDR, not Capone, not Corleone, nobody, can get Senators to vote the way we want them to in 2009. The secret pork and local corruption is not what it once was; Senators are now more independent than ever. Oh, and those little campaign finance and small state situation are somewhat problematic too

Look, some people in the Dem coalition are going to have to adjust their expectations. A small amount of progress is better than none, and running in 2010 on a small amount of progress is better than none.

Posted by: BPM 1000 on December 14, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

To paraphrase neill, goddamn joe liebermanns shit filled soul to hell.

Posted by: socratic attitude on December 14, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's time for the timid Harry Reid to utter a word of criticism of the abuse of the filibuster.

Posted by: AlphaLiberal on December 14, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Harry Reid has plenty of leverage with Lieberman -- if he wants to use it.

He can take Lieberman aside and explain the options:

Whatever Lieberman wants for the remainder of his term will be opposed by anonymous holds, etc. Lieberman will never get another bill through the Senate. Tit for tat.

If Lieberman runs for reelection in 2012, Democrats will actually oppose him (unlike the last election where Senators supported him over the Democratic candidate Lamont) and paint him as the Senator who killed health care reform. So much for keeping a Senate career going.

If Lieberman retires and becomes a lobbyist, he will have no Democratic friends (and no influence to peddle) in the Senate. And word of this will be leaked to the right people. So much for a new lobbying career.

Or Lieberman can vote with the caucus on a very important procedural vote. He can still vote his "conscience" (if he has one) on the bill itself.

Don't think Reid doesn't know how to do this. It seems to me that Reid isn't all that disappointed with the way things are going. His business friends are happy to be winning the battle. And Reid has a good excuse to sell to the public -- he tried his best, you know, so it wasn't his fault.

Posted by: jeri on December 14, 2009 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

This IS the way the left's religious political machine works. You disagree you are burned at the stake.

Hmm..he doesn't think that medicare should be expanded to someone who has 35 years left to live and he's sticking to his guns.

Heretic, burn him at the stake.

Posted by: dude on December 14, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to pose this question to any Senator worth their salt (assuming the senator is not a attorney). Why is TORT REFORM not a major component of this bill? Studies performed by www.BenefitsManager.net and www.DentalInsuranceUtah.net that liability insurance costs are approaching nearly one third of the operating expenses for specialty care physicians, units and facilities. Aside from medical provider costs, insurance carriers such as Humana Health Plans state that their costs of medical liability and defensive medicine accounts for nearly 10 cents out of every premium dollar collected (verified). Compare that to Humanas reported pharmaceutical claims of 15 cents out of every premium dollar collected. Or better yet, 21 cents out of every premium dollar collected is paid back to physicians for physician treatments. Without TORT REFORM, medical provider costs will never drop.

Posted by: Mike on December 15, 2009 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK
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