Joe Lieberman and the Health Care Train Wreck

Tuesday, 15 December 2009 15:27 By William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

Joe Lieberman and the Health Care Train Wreck
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Erik Charlton, The UpTake)

When last we heard from Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, he was throwing sand into the gears of the Democratic push for health care reform by declaring he would filibuster any legislation containing the so-called public option."I feel so strongly about the creation of another government health insurance entitlement," said the senator back in November."The government going into the health insurance business - I think it's such a mistake that I would use the power I have as a single senator to stop a final vote."

This pronouncement came at the same time as word got out that Lieberman was also planning to actively campaign for GOP candidates during the 2010 midterms, further undercutting his erstwhile party's hold on the majority in Congress."There's a hard core of partisan, passionate, hardcore Republicans," he said at the time. "There's a hard core of partisan Democrats on the other side. And in between is the larger group, which is people who really want to see the right thing done, or want something good done for this country and them - and that means, sometimes, the better choice is somebody who's not a Democrat."

For some reason, these twin insults did not motivate the Democratic Congressional leadership to expunge this hypocritical cretin from their ranks. Lieberman kept his committee chairmanship and was not even mildly censured by his colleagues. One month later, the decision to ignore his brazen disregard for his colleagues has come back to bite us all, for Mr. Lieberman has once again elbowed his way into the center of the health reform debate, and with a vengeance. "Mr. Lieberman threatened on national television to join the Republicans in blocking the health care bill, President Obama's chief domestic initiative," reported The New York Times on Tuesday. "Within hours, he was in a meeting at the Capitol with top White House officials. And on Monday night, Democratic senators emerged from a tense 90-minute closed-door session and suggested that they were on the verge of bowing to Mr. Lieberman's main demands: that they scrap a plan to let people buy into Medicare beginning at age 55, and scotch even a fallback version of a new government-run health insurance plan, or public option."

This turn of events is sickening and appalling on a couple of different levels.

First, of course, is the shameless reality that is Mr. Lieberman himself. During his 2004 presidential run, and again during his 2006 Senate campaign, Lieberman actively supported the public option's inclusion in any health care reform, and specifically supported the expansion of Medicare. As late as this past September, Lieberman continued to support such an expansion, as reported by The Connecticut Post. "As to how 47 million uninsured will afford coverage," said The Post, "Lieberman said only 12 million don't have insurance because they cannot afford it. By allowing citizens who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid to buy in for a rate below the private market, the government can extend coverage to more of those who are currently uninsured, he said."

That was then, and this is now. In one of the most astounding examples of political flip-floppery, Lieberman opened this week by declaring himself dead-set against the very health care reform policies he once championed, and once again announced his intention to don a Republican cloak and tear up the Democrats' legislative efforts. Again.

Why? One would have to be deep into a severe state of personal denial to believe Lieberman has legitimate concerns about the impending health care legislation, given the fact that he very recently supported the exact provisions he now wants removed or destroyed. The only sensible explanation would seem to be that Lieberman is actively needling the Democratic leadership, and has become such an obnoxious obstructionist only to keep his name in the news. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains the situation, and what it means going forward:

The key issue senate Democrats now have in dealing with Joe Lieberman isn't his position on the Medicare Buy-In. They need to confront the problem that Lieberman isn't negotiating in good faith. No surprise that Republicans are giddy with what a problem he's creating for Harry Reid & Co. But in my conversations with them, it's as clear to them as it is to anyone else that he's now basically mocking his Democratic colleagues by moving the goal posts every time a new agreement is struck.

This puts the Democrats in an extremely difficult, politically untenable position. Yes, they need 60 votes. But they're not going to be able to hang on to Lieberman's vote long enough to get the bill passed. That now seems unquestionably clear. People who say that the Dems should just move to reconciliation don't necessarily realize the difficulties involved - either procedurally or politically, in terms of losing even more Democratic votes. Personally, I'd like to see them try it. But I don't know if it's possible.

Until a couple days ago I was close to certain a health care bill would pass. I still feel relatively confident one will simply because the Dems just don't have any choice but to pass one. Once it is passed, if it is, it's definitely time for the Democratic caucus to strip Lieberman of all the benefits he receives as a member of the Democratic caucus. But that doesn't accomplish anything at the moment. The only path I can see for the Dems is that they need to try to put 60 votes together with Sen. Snowe. Yes, that sounds crazy to me too. But I think she actually has a set of policy priorities that could be met. I don't think that's true with Lieberman. So further negotiating just means more game-playing.

The solution to all this, one would think, would be for the Democratic leadership in Congress to wrap Lieberman in bright red wrapping paper, slap on a bow, and ship him across the aisle to his ideological compatriots in the GOP as an early Christmas present. Strip him of his leadership position, show him the door, and publicly denounce him as nothing more than a stinking chunk of cholesterol clogging up the arteries of progress.

But no. Of course that isn't going to happen. Instead, Democrats appear poised to once again knuckle under to this fraud and further denude what has already become a half-a-loaf bill. According to several sources, Rahm Emmanuel and the White House are actively pressuring the Democratic leadership in Congress to give Lieberman whatever he wants in order to pass some form of health reform legislation, no matter how ragged, damaging and useless the final product may turn out to be.

The Senate won't vote on health care reform until next week, and the process has changed course two dozen times already, so the outcome of this latest idiot eruption is far from certain, but the writing does appear to be on the wall this time around. Joe Lieberman doesn't give a tinker's damn about the people he represents, the party that coddles him, his own positions on key issues or anything else beyond getting his mug in front of television cameras in the guise of someone who actually matters. The Obama administration is once again moonwalking away from doing the right thing on this issue, and the jellyfish pond that is Congress appears poised to do what jellyfish do: float, flop, flounder and drift with the scum in this rising tide.

In short, this whole thing is about to become a train wreck of galactic proportions. Stay tuned.

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 December 2009 14:54