Welcome to the Lieberman Administration


Looks like Joe Lieberman decided to try for the old double-cross and say he now opposes the Medicare expansion compromise he’d hinted he would support. Lieberman wants no public option, no trigger that might create a public option, and no expansion of existing programs as a substitute for a public option. And he doesn’t care about expressing that view in misleading ways, timed to cause embarrassment to the Democratic leadership. And, frankly, unlike some other troublesome Democratic Senators one can hardly be all that surprised that he’s making problems for the Obama administration’s #1 domestic priority. After all, Lieberman took the view that John McCain would be the better President.

That said, I agree with Chris Bowers that in a lot of ways the real story here is that the Senate leadership has, at every step of this process, underscored that a “reconciliation” path to a health care bill is off the table. That means Lieberman has unlimited control over what happens, and no incentive to compromise, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s being uncompromising. Can’t liberals be just as stiff-necked as Lieberman? Sure, they could. But liberals members do have an incentive to compromise—the tens of thousands of people who die every year for lack of health insurance. The leverage that Lieberman and other “centrists” have obtained on this issue (and on climate change) stems from a demonstrated willingness to embrace sociopathic indifference to the human cost of their actions.

If reconciliation could be revived, things might look different. There’s a good case for not doing this legislation through reconciliation. The product that emerged from the parliamentarian’s wringer could be sub-optimal in various ways. But the product that emerges from Lieberman’s wringer will also be sub-optimal. So given a viable threat of reconciliation, it seems to me that both sides would have some incentive to compromise. It would also be worth considering legislative ideas that can definitely pass procedural muster under reconciliation rules. For example, bill that cuts Medicare Advantage overpayments, raises some funds from taxing “cadillac” plans, uses the funds to finance Medicaid expansion and subsidized for Medicare “buy-ins” for people over 55, and reforms MedPAC would expand access to health care while “bending the curve” and unambiguously meets the procedural standard for reconciliation.