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Will Joe Lieberman filibuster?

I don't know why I don't take Joe Lieberman's threat to filibuster health-care reform more seriously, but I just don't. Take what Lieberman told reporters today:

I told Senator Reid that I'm strongly inclined -- I haven't totally decided, but I'm strongly inclined -- to vote to proceed to the health-care debate, even though I don't support the bill that he's bringing together because it's important that we start the debate on health-care reform because I want to vote for health-care reform this year. But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill.

Well, the bill is certain to change between now and then. That's a lot of wiggle room. Additionally, Lieberman's argument against the public option is simply false. "I think a lot of people may think that the public option is free," he says. "It's not. It's going to cost the taxpayers and people who have health insurance now, and if it doesn't it's going to add terribly to the national debt." Soon enough, he'll be looking at Congressional Budget Office numbers saying the exact opposite. The public option costs taxpayers nothing, adds nothing to the debt and saves everyone money. Lieberman won't be able to hang onto this argument for very long, and then what?

Plus, Lieberman has not, traditionally, been conservative on health-care issues. He's a moralist and a hawk, but not a particular critic of the safety net. It may be that his friction with the Democrats has changed him, but somewhere, deep down, this guy is still lurking:

Update:: Harry Reid seems to agree with me. "Joe Lieberman is the least of Harry Reid's problems," he said today.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 27, 2009; 3:14 PM ET
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Is there anyone I hate more than Holy Joe? Rush, no. Bush, no. Cheney, no. Congrats, Joe, you win.

Posted by: AZProgressive | October 27, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Considering he's a constituency of one I'm assuming he needs all the insurance ind. money he can get for his reelection. Conn seems the place to get it. What am I missing?

Posted by: obrier2 | October 27, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I think he's signalling that he's for sale for the right price... Just because that seems to be the only calculation he makes anymore.

Posted by: consid24 | October 27, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I think you misunderestimate Lieberman's narcissism, Ezra. A long-time Lieberman observer like Digby could give you a quick tutorial.

Posted by: scarlota | October 27, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Ezra, you attribute these high motives to persons of no apparent loyalty other than to themselves.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | October 27, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

No way does he not vote for cloture. If Dems have to take out the PO to please Joe--thereby humiliating Reid--then Reid's parting gift will be to strip his chairmanship and throw him out of the caucus. It's that simple.

I have a feeling this is going to be like Zombieland where Conservadems come out of the woodwork one at a time and threaten to kill the bill. Give me a frickin break.

Posted by: bmull | October 27, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Lieberman also said that we shouldn't deal with the uninsured until the economy gets better. No one had the heart to tell him that the bills being discussed push this off until 2013. Either Lieberman is ignorant to what is actually being debated, dishonest, or thinks the economy will still be terrible in 2013.

Posted by: flounder2 | October 27, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I don't think this has anything to do with the public option. It has to do with subsidies. If you listen to what he has said carefully, it is clear that he wants the delivery reforms but not large subsidies to expand access. He said this on CNN's state of the union in August, and he said it in interviews since then. The most he has ever said in favor of expanding access was automatically enrolling people who were already eligible for Medicaid.

LIEBERMAN, 8/23: "Here’s the tough one. We morally, every one of us, would like to cover every American with health insurance. But that’s where you spend most of the $1 trillion plus, a little less that is estimated, the estimate said this health care plan will cost.

And I’m afraid we’ve got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy’s out of recession. There’s no reason we have to do it all now, but we do have to get started. And I think the place to start is cost health delivery reform and insurance market reforms."

For Lieberman, it is the subsidies.

Posted by: JonShields31 | October 27, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

You use Lieberman's misleading justifications for being against this as evidence that he will eventually come around. Why? For me, his misleading justifications make it more obvious that he wants this to fail.

He knows that the public option as written will lower the deficit. The CBO has said as much when looking at the house bills. He was asked about this in the past. He then jumps to the cost shifting argument.

He talks exactly like a Republican, in that his justifications keep changing depending on what sounds good and what he is confronted with. He isn't like Evan Bayh, who for all his faults, is sticking to one main criticism of the bill (cost). Even when he has more opportunities to bash the bill, he doesn't (except for cost). Lieberman is the opposite: he will take any opportunity to bash the bill. Just like most Republicans.

Plus, if he really wanted to negotiate in good faith, why wouldn't he try to do this before the bill comes to the floor? Once the motion to proceed passes, it will be almost impossible to amend the bill to satisfy Lieberman. He will need 60 votes, and as you pointed out earlier, liberals would not want to provide them. He clearly wants to start debate, then make clear his demands once it is impossible for Reid to address them. This is again different from Bayh, who wants his problems addressed before the motion to proceed and it becomes impossible to address them.

Posted by: JonShields31 | October 27, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

In all honesty, why are y'all so blind to notice that the healthcare expansion bill (as opposed to real reform) costs too much, taxes hardworking folks, adds stress to Medicare, and will ultimately be financed by the Chinese (since nobody really believes CBO scoring).

I can't believe young people voted for this Obama guy. They and their children will be paying for all of this wasteful government spending. What incentive do you have to work hard - just join a freakin' teachers' union or a cushy government job.

This should be easy for Obama. Obama should tell Reid - <$900 billion bill without a public option, but with a trigger. Tell the libs to shut up. Get 3-5 Republicans on board. The libs will never block healthcare reform. Everyone will join and sing kumbaya (sic?). Then 2010 will be a great election year for Democrats. All it takes is the 30 yard field goal. Easy.

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | October 27, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Ezra - Could you please turn off the italics? At the end of the update?

Posted by: Hopeful9 | October 27, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

The simple point is that Lying Joe lied alot during that campaign, including about supporting universal healthcare.

Let us once again ponder the political genius of the AFL-CIO leadership which supported Lieberman against Ned Lamont, even after Lamont had won the Democratic nomination.

Posted by: farrell_bill | October 27, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

i've gotta agree with all my left wing buddies here. Joe Lieberman will (IMO) vote against this as long as it contains a public option.

Randomwalk1 has the solution but I'm guessing it just PAINS some progressives to send a monthly check to Aetna or Uncle Sam. The question is, "who do you hate more?"

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 27, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

I think that Steve Benen has it right at the Washington Monthly: this isn't just about ego or posturing. It's about 2012 and Joe's job as senator. What he's trying to stave off is a credible right-wing opponent. If Joe is basically a moderate Republican all but in name, he can keep the field clear from his right, pick up the Republican votes in CT and peel off the right-leaning Dems (probably with more empty promises). He'll have a more left-wing opponent for sure, so there's no upside to him helping health care reform and only downside. Even if he votes against the final bill, he can be tagged as part of the Congress that passed it. That's not going to help him with Republican voters. He doesn't care about what's in the best interest of the country or his state, but what's in the best interest of keeping Joe Lieberman in the Senate.

Posted by: jholtham | October 27, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Lieberman will be 70 in 2012 - certainly young enough to run again. He's burned his bridges and can't possibly win a Democratic primary next time around. So what's his best strategy for next time - Independent or Republican?

Seems pretty clear to me that he means keep the option of running as a Republican open. And that means voting against health care reform.

The best strategy for him is to break with the Dems on every important issue of substance while refusing to leave the caucus. Then, he can decide whether to run as an Independent or a Republican.

Posted by: Bloix | October 27, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Look, the watered down bill in the Senate if passed by both houses will go down in history as one of the greatest legislative achievements. And once unemployment goes down next year, the Democrats will not lose too many seats. Continued economic recovery through 2012 assures Obama a second term. Then the Democrats can do Health care reform Part 2: the Really Hard Stuff... (Massachusetts is in the process of doing HC Reform Part Two. California is what the rest of the US will look like (fiscally speaking) in another 10 years.)

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | October 27, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I think Lieberman would love to kill the Obama agenda as revenge for defeating McCain because I think McCain promised Lieberman Secretary of State instead of VP. If health care reforms fails, the rest of Obama's agenda will falter and 2012 will look increasingly difficult for Democrats. And then Lieberman, smugly, can take his private satisfaction in revenge when he joins his buddy McCain as a Republican for 2012.

Posted by: glewiss | October 27, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Steve Benen @ "Washington Monthly" posted several informative clips about Lieberman that are worth the read.

The findings in multitudinous reports and analysis by CBO and independent outside experts agree "a robust public option will save money" so it is baffling why Lieberman refuses to support the public option. Iam not sure he even knows since his rationale changes monthly:

June: he said we did not need a public option because there is "plenty of competition in the private insurance market"

July: the public would end-up paying for it.

August: we need to wait until the recession is over.

September: "the public doesn't support it."

October: we're "doing too much at one time" and that he still wouldn't vote for it, not "... even with an opt-out because it still creates a whole new government entitlement program for which taxpayers will be on the line."

Of course taxpayers understand that nothing is free and that we'll have to pay for healthcare. But either Lieberman just does not get it, doesn't understand what the public option is or is deliberately being intellectually dishonest -- maybe a combination thereof. Nevertheless it is disingenuous.

Insofar as filibusters go: Benen says,

"What's worth remembering, though, is that Lieberman uses his "rights" selectively, and has a record of ending filibusters on legislation he ultimately votes against."

Whatever the actual reason or reasons we'll probably never know, however, I have a couple of theories:

Perhaps the millions of dollars the insurance companies filled his coffer with in recent years might explain it.

I suspect Lieberman is jealous of all the attention Olympia Snowe has gotten and the amount of power she has wielded in getting certain legislation tailored to her liking. Now he wants to be in her position on the receiving end.

In-addition to the aforementioned, with this maneuver Lieberman managed to sandwich himself in-between the Republicans and the Democrats. With both vying for his vote, whichever one offers the best prize he'll go for it.

The only thing consistent about Joe Lieberman is his consistently changing rationale. He'll say and do whatever is politically convenient; It does not matter if it makes sense.

When push-comes-to-shove, even if it means throwing someone overboard, Joe always chooses what is best for Joe. And right now he is trying to manipulate the debate to his advantage.

While Lieberman is another self-serving politician, he is in a position to do real damage to getting a healthcare bill passed with a public option included. Should that, god-forbid, come to pass millions of Americans in dire need won't get the help they desperately need all because, even without good reason, Joe said no.

Posted by: serena1313 | October 27, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

He didn't support reform in 94.

Posted by: CraigMcGillivary1 | October 27, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Not true. The Lieberman who has existed since that 2006 campaign is a Lieberman who desperately craves media attention above all else. He's positioning himself for that. What could be better than the guy who broke health care to get you on Sunday morning for some choice sanctimony?

Posted by: pj_camp | October 28, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Occam's Razor points me to a simpler conclusion: he's just a self-serving liar.

Posted by: bcamarda2 | October 28, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Lieberman, being a Senator from Connecticut, is also the Senator from Insurance. (Remember what the C in CIGNA stands for!). His colleague Dodd is more the Senator from Banks, so they can differentiate their true constituencies a little.

Posted by: PQuincy | October 28, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Does Joe's wife still work for one of the PR companies as a health and pharmacuetical industry advisor? I recall she signed on with one in 2005 or so.

She probably gets access to the Senator.

Posted by: MReineck1 | October 28, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, Ezra, still think anything the Liebermouse said in 2006 matters? Don't you remember how he promised to campaign for the Democrat for president?

We in Connecticut have come to recognize that Not My Sen. Lieberman cares about the truth almost as much as he cares about the welfare of the Palestinians. The only thing that makes his coming out against this bill surprising is that he's usually much more willing to do whatever it takes to get re-elected, and he is solidly against the will of Connecticut voters on this one. (I get the creeps thinking about how he could be planning to try to rehabilitate his image for '12.)

Posted by: slanagat | October 28, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Holy Joe ought to look at his beloved Israeli health care system. The Dr's are private, the insurance co's are non-profit and everyone is covered. A hybrid similar to France and Germany.

We give them $3 bil a yr you figure we ought to learn a thing or two from them.

Posted by: MerrillFrank | October 28, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

What if a Lieberman filibuster is a way of positioning himself to be the Republican VP nominee in 2012?

Posted by: Don32 | October 28, 2009 11:07 PM | Report abuse

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