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Lieberman will filibuster health-care reform 'as a matter of conscience'

Joe Lieberman went on Fox News last weekend to give viewers some insight into his thinking on health-care reform.

LIEBERMAN: A public option plan is unnecessary. It has been put forward, I’m convinced, by people who really want the government to take over all of health insurance. They’ve got a right to do that; I think that would be wrong.

But worse than that, we have a problem even greater than the health insurance problems, and that is a debt -- $12 trillion today, projected to be $21 trillion in 10 years.

WALLACE: So at this point, I take it, you’re a “no” vote in the Senate?

LIEBERMAN: If the public option plan is in there, as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote because I believe debt can break America and send us into a recession that’s worse than the one we’re fighting our way out of today. I don’t want to do that to our children and grandchildren.

I've sent a couple of requests over to Lieberman's office for an interview, and haven't had much luck. But my question is a simple one, and any reporter could ask it: What's the mechanism by which the public option increases the national deficit?

This has been Lieberman's standard argument for the past few weeks, but he has not, to my knowledge, explained how it works. Every analysis of the public option I've seen has concluded that it will reduce federal, and consumer, spending. Indeed, the stronger the public option is, the more it reduces the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a public option paying Medicare's rates would save the government more than $100 billion in the first 10 years, and more after that.

Some argue, however, that the government will end up subsidizing the public option. I can't come up with a convincing scenario in which this would happen, but Congress is a strange place. Amending the bill to subsidize the public option, however, would need 60 votes. The initiative could, and almost certainly would, be filibustered. Unless Democrats control many more seats than they do today and fill those seats with extremely liberal members, or Republicans decide they really love subsidizing public insurance, it's hard to imagine that happening.

We're left, then, in a strange place. Lieberman says he cannot support the public option because he is worried about the national debt. But the public option, in its current form, shows some hope of reducing the deficit, and has no mechanism for increasing it. Any such mechanism would need to be added later, and would be subject to the filibuster.

Lieberman isn't much of a liberal, but he's not a stupid man. I'd really like to hear his explanation for how the public option increases the deficit. Maybe he sees something I don't.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 9, 2009; 11:35 AM ET
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"I'd really like to hear his explanation for how the public option increases the deficit. Maybe he sees something I don't."

Ezra, I think he read your post from a few weeks ago:

"When you're analyzing the impact of proposals on the cutting edge of public policy, the very nature of the exercise assures that you don't have very good data to use. After all, if you did have a lot of data, that would mean the proposal would already be in place, and then you wouldn't have to guess at its impact."

Your word choice: guess. So Lieberman doesn't believe the "guesses" of CBO and others.

The CBO and other economists project out expenditures based on assumptions, outside the context of politics or future actions. The actual public option would be impacted by actual politics or future actions.

Posted by: wisewon | November 9, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I hate like hell to say "I told you so," since you're so often right, but it sounds like you may finally be coming around to realize that Joe Lieberman means what he says.

He is indeed prepared to singlehandedly take down healthcare reform if it comes to that. He does indeed have that little honor.

Posted by: bcamarda2 | November 9, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone believe that Lieberman would vote against a Public Option if it were for Jews?

No, of course Lieberman wouldn't, in fact, he'd build them their own hospital to go along with their Public Option, and anything else they need.

Posted by: lindalovejones | November 9, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Lieberman opposes the public option because liberal bloggers say mean things about him and Democrats backed his opponent in 2006. To take any of the various justifications he's given (it increases the debt, it's not bipartisan, it doesn't have public support, it's a Trojan horse for a government takeover, etc.) seriously is to give him too much credit.

Posted by: apr2517 | November 9, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

More of that post, just for fun:

"Congress has to write a budget every year. That budget needs to include numbers. Someone needs to develop those numbers. The CBO is that someone, and it does as good a job as could be asked. But a best guess is just that: a best guess. It's information that should be incorporated into the design of the final bill, but not information that should decide the design of the final bill. After all, sometimes it proves to be wrong."

Posted by: wisewon | November 9, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

OK, this guy needs lose all privileges of caucusing with the Democratic party immediately. And after that, the senate rules need to be adjusted.

I've had more than enough of this farce, whereby a watered-down compromise of a watered-down compromise becomes seen as unthinkably extreme.

If we can't get this done, our government does not work and needs serious restructuring.

Posted by: adamiani | November 9, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

apr2517 is exactly right.

This is not about deficits, it's about revenge. Someone needs to point that out.

Progressives were mean to Lieberman in 2006. Really mean. Now in 2009 progressives want the public option. Lieberman sees a way to deny progressives the one thing they want.

You can't really blame him. I'd probably do the same thing. But then I can be a really nasty person.

Posted by: KathyF | November 9, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

C'mon Ezra. You've said yourself on more than one occasion that is only a first, incremental step for reform. A foundation for future improvements.

Sen. Lieberman and a lot of other Americans know that this is the liberals' strategy. All of the bills now have fine-tuned the language on the public option to game the CBO's scoring of the growth in costs and numbers of participants. But there are provisions in the bill which give the HHS Secretary discretion to dramatically alter this dynamic without any changes to the law.

Whether the legislation is "deficit neutral" has nothing to do with the increased federal spending mandated by this bill. This is what Lieberman is concerned about.

But I think you already know all this - it's what makes this a "sneaky strategy", right?

Posted by: morgen-vs | November 9, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Senator Harry Reid should practice real-politik. He should present his bill on health care reform and call Sen. Joe Lieberman's bluff.

Let him call the bluff of all the so-called centrists democrats who are against the public option. 2010 elections would be the referendum on them and their fake aristocratic ways.

Posted by: ameys1msncom | November 9, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

You are serious? You can't think of a way for this to increase the deficit? I think that the chances of the democrats having a public plan that both covers everything they consider to be fair and only charging what they consider to be fair to be indistinguishable from zero. Once the public plan becomes insolvent I think the odds are huge that democrats would then want to bail out the public plan. They will not see it as a failed experiment, they will see it as the fair thing to do. This will let the public plan be a subsidized plan without calling it a subsidized plan and it will have a big affect on the deficit. Just by calling it the public plan I think it would be virtually guaranteed that it would be bailed out when it becomes insolvent. If you can't see how this could possibly add to the deficit I don't think you are trying very hard.

Posted by: spotatl | November 9, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Well, a local Connecticut writer has your answer Ezra: (nice place, we lived there one year in an idyllic town)

Myself, when I heard another quote from L roughly : "I can't in good conscience.... [allow a Public Option to come to a vote]"

My thought: Exactly.

Not enough good conscience.

Posted by: HalHorvath | November 9, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

wisewon, along with bending the curve, which is affecting health care inflation long term, there is really a need, now, to have *short-term* reduction in cost inflation, say during the next few years.

There is a way to get short term cost reduction (less short term inflation). Consider the sources of the excess costs:

Posted by: HalHorvath | November 9, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Lieberman had no trouble increasing the national debt when he voted, time and again, to empty the Treasury and send our hard-earned tax dollars to the corrupt governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. Debt only bothers Lieberman when the money is spent on actual Americans.

Posted by: gmcduluth | November 9, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Lieberman isn't much of a liberal, but he's not a stupid man.

You're kidding, right Ezra?

I know you need to play nice if you have any chance of getting and interview from him. But look at the things that Lieb has said, done, written on, supported, voted for/against over the past decade. They pretty much light up the sky on a person who is ridiculously obtuse, stunningly stuborn, completely egocentric, a compulsive liar and quite stupid.

And that's putting it nicely.


Posted by: toshiaki | November 9, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone think it is a coincidence that Joe Lieberman is from a state with a substantial presence of insurance companies? I'm quite sure that the people of Connecticut are in favor of the public option, but then they are the ones who fund Joe's campaign. If the Dems don't throw Joe out of their caucus, they are as spineless and worthless as I think they are.

Posted by: Jim405 | November 9, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Ezra - I have to disagree after listening to Lieberman lately, he is a stupid man. He's the senator from the great state of Aetna - he's representing his benefactors not his constituents.

Posted by: NotFooledTX | November 9, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

"Lieberman isn't much of a liberal, but he's not a stupid man."

No, indeed. He's quite smart enough to know that code words and dog whistles, not reasoned argument, is the way to appeal to the dominant idiot sector of the electorate.

Posted by: exgovgirl | November 9, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't see why the Democrats don't just let Lieberman follow his conscience...out of his committe chairmanships and into the the wilderness of being a fair-weather, "independent", friend.

Posted by: Athena_news | November 9, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm supporting the "Lieberman Option." It's the provision that allows those of us who currently can't get private insurance at any price due to pre-existing conditions to forward all of our unpaid medical bills, past, present and future, to the good Senator so he and his conscience can take care of them in whatever, non-public option manner they see fit. In fact, I think I'll just go ahead and use his name and address in the "responsible party" section of medical admission forms from now on. Call your Congressperson and ask them to support the Lieberman Option!!

Posted by: Mickey71 | November 9, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

He KNOWS the Dems need him on cap & trade and other issues coming up..he KNOWS he can pull this and get away with it and he HOPES no one in his district will remember when it comes to vote on him again....but he also KNOWS the private insurance lobby will continue to pay his wife her million dollar salary and contribute more money to his re election campaign....nothing to do with is, and always has been, all about Joe and Joe's pocket.
get rid of him, he stinks.

Posted by: Grissom1001 | November 9, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate your point that Leiberman's "argument" is all lies. He's like a commercial that doesn't quite lie but misleads.

People should keep in mind one other point. Leiberman essentially says that the debt is projected to almost double in the next decade. However, it doesn't really matter if the debt doubles, if the economy grows at a faster rate.

If our debt doubled and our GDP quadrupled, we would actually be in better shape. Furthermore, passing on more debt to "future generations" so that those "future generations" find work after graduating is worth doing.

Posted by: bcbulger | November 9, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I think the scenario under which HR 3962 doesn't reduce the deficit is this: in 2010, the Medicare "sustainable growth rate" will kick in, and reduce payment rates for physicians by 21% (according to the CBO Director's Blog of Oct 29).

This has been looming over Congress for years. Each time it comes up, they enact patches to postpone the reduction and hold physician compensation to earlier levels.

If the solvency of HR 3962 depends on Congress allowing a reduction in spending that they haven't had the will to do since 1992, I can understand why there is some skepticism.

Even if Lieberman's filibuster is defeated and this version of health care reform passes, we can expect another epic political battle to take place in 2010. The opponents of health insurance reform can spoil its success and achieve an "I told you so" victory if they can block Medicare spending reduction. Their framing for that debate is a no-brainer: "stop the Democrats from cutting your Medicare services and putting your family doctor into the poor house!"

Posted by: billkarwin | November 9, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Apparently Senator Lieberman's wife is a lobbyist for the health care industry. Does no one but me think it's fair to ask him how that influences his thinking on the subject of the public option (which he does not express in a coherant manner)?
I'm not saying its a function of money necessarily although who knows. But health care insurance would seem to be a pretty one sided issue in the Lieberman household.

Are wives off limits? Or what

Posted by: csullivan302 | November 9, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse


Now, are you really asking about why Joe Lieberman, a senator from Connecticut, is going to filibuster a public option? Really?

Have you folks ever been to Hartford, Connecticut? Have you noticed how many of the buildings in that city are owned by a Health Insurance company? Does that tell you anything?

What he is doing is the same thing any other senator would do. He's protecting his state's interests.

He's showing us again what a hypocrite and self-serving egomaniac he is, of course. But then again, him voting in favor of a public option would be like a senator from Iowa voting in favor of removing farm subsidies. Ain't gonna happen.

Only way it would happen is if Lieberman's political future (aka his job) is on the line. If he truly thought it was, he'd switch his mind in an instant. He's done it many times before, and will continue to do so until the day he's finally kicked out (or kicks the bucket).

Posted by: JERiv | November 9, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

"Lieberman isn't much of a liberal, but he's not a stupid man."

I'd like this sentence explained. There isn't much evidence in the last 10 years that supports this.

Posted by: AxelDC | November 9, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

lieberman not stupid?

au contraire. i think he's bone dumb.

Posted by: jimfilyaw | November 9, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

If that's really Lieberman's reason, then there should be a simple solution: add language that says the public option can't add to the national debt?

Posted by: zippyzeph | November 9, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

It's not a proveable point. It is a talking point. That's the difference and the reason why Lieberman will spew this on Fox News, because he knows he will not have to explain it.

Posted by: kromerm | November 9, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Some argue, however, that the government will end up subsidizing the public option. I can't come up with a convincing scenario in which this would happen,

Really Ezra? You think the government is going to let one of their other medical entitlements go belly up? Medicare? No they won't. Its unfunded to the trillions, now costs $600+ billion per year and in 1991 we were TOLD that it would cost $9 Billion and in actuality it cost $61 Billion. If you don't think that liberal democratic politicans will find a way to circumvent rules to get their way (AND PRESERVE THEIR PRECIOUS PUBLIC OPTION) you haven't watched closely enough or you're naive or worse. Take a gander at the new Senator in MA. Rules are meant to be broken by politicians. Once you let it in they'll find a way to subsidize it.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 9, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Lieberman is a disgrace as a senator and certainly as somebody who still maintains ties with the Democratic Party. He needs to be stripped of all chairmanships and other trappings of glory. He is a miserable, pathetic little jerk who should be voted out of office and stuck out on a desert island someplace. He's just plain repulsive.

Posted by: barnabytwist | November 9, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Impeach Lieberman!! C'mon, people of Connecticut, stand up for what's right! Remove that roadblock!

Posted by: holly33 | November 9, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Joe LIEberman IS not stupid. It's just that he and Mitt Romney are tied in the challenge of being the bigger opportunist lacking scruples or integrity.

Of course, LIEberman could be honest and say that improved efficiencies due to bona fide insurance reform would cost the jobs of many of his constituents and would also hurt the incomes of some of his biggest campaign contributors. But that would be honest and, therefore, not to be mentioned.

My own feelings are this: He HAS promised, for what it's worth, not to filibuster getting a bill to the floor. So, fine. But if at any time after that, he mentions "filibuster" in conjunction with himself, do until him as he wants to do unto us. But don't just strip him of the chairmanship -- toss him out of the caucus, and let him see how much of a welcome he gets from the GOP.

Posted by: edallan | November 9, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

I think what happens is that Lieberman spends a lot of time on TV saying "I'll never vote for a public option, its too expensive, I'm a man of conservative fiscal values, (don't forget I campaigned for my friend McCain)" Then the CBO comes out with their estimates and he says "Well, clearly this is the best bill for a fiscal conservative, this will save the most money. I've said I wont vote for a bill that wastes money, this wastes the least, so I'll vote for it." He becomes the "Republican" bipartisan vote.

When it gets spun, we hear about how the conservativeS voted for the bill: Lieberman and X.

I hope.

Posted by: pagemp | November 10, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

"What's the mechanism by which the public option increases the national deficit"

This is just plain stupid. And even if the public option itself didn't add to the deficit, the overall healthcare bill will. The public option won't be passed on its own. And anyone who thinks subsidizing the health care for millions of low-income people (and others) won't add to the deficit is an idiot.

And what would a post about Lieberman be without anti-semitic commenters mentioning Israel?

Posted by: Bob65 | November 16, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

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