Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Time to Bid Lieberman Farewell

It is time to take away Sen. Joe Lieberman's chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Lieberman announced he would vote with Republicans for a filibuster of a public option health care bill.

"We're trying to do too much at once," Lieberman said. “To put this government-created insurance company on top of everything else is just asking for trouble for the taxpayers, for the premium payers and for the national debt. I don’t think we need it now."

Lieberman added the public option would cripple "the economic recovery we’re in." The General Accounting Office wrote the current health care system is "unsustainable" and in need of structural changes.

Unrelenting growth in health care spending has put pressure on policymakers to seek fundamental health care system reforms. Part of the stress comes from a wide gap in expectations among patients, providers, and payers: what patients and providers expect is not well aligned with what health care programs are able to deliver. The public and private sectors can both play an important role in educating the public about the differences between wants, needs, affordability, and sustainability at both the individual and aggregate level.

An American Journal of Medicine study found in 1981 only 8 percent of families filed for bankruptcy. In 2007, 62.1 percent of family bankruptcies for cost by health care expenses. The current health care system is killing the economy. The Congressional Budget Office found the public option would lower the deficit. Lieberman is either ignorant or grandstanding. My guess is both.

Nate Silver brings up a horrifying scenario.

But even if Lieberman will probably cave, this creates real problems for Democrats. For one thing, Lieberman has said he won't oppose the motion to proceed with the health care bill. Instead, he'll filibuster the end result, if he doesn't like the outcome. This is actually very devious. If Harry Reid determines that he doesn't have 60 votes on the motion to proceed on a bill with a public option, then he doesn't have to bring it to the floor. Progressives will be apoplectic, Reid will lose some face, pundits will talk about Democrats having lost momentum -- but the prospects for health care reform will probably not have seriously been damaged. The opt-out will get replaced by an opt-in or maybe a trigger or co-ops or whatever and Olympia Snowe will be very happy and the debate will proceed.

I say call Lieberman's bluff. If health care reform dies then Lieberman should own it or back down. If Lieberman doesn't back down then kick him out of the Democratic caucus. It will make progressives happy. The Republican base will not tolerate a former Democrat in the Republican caucus. Lieberman's voting record on social issues will drive the Christian Right nuts. Lieberman will have no power caucusing with the minority party. Lieberman won't get any attention or committee chairs from Mitch McConnell. I'm betting Lieberman will back down if the threat is real.

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