A tale of two compromises
For all the flak Ben Nelson gets, the process of pulling him onto the bill was a lot more straightforward than what Joe Lieberman required. Nelson, for better or worse, compromised. He didn't want a public option but was part of the team that developed the Medicare buy-in. He wanted Stupak-style language on abortion but didn't threaten a filibuster when it was defeated. He wanted states to opt in to the Medicaid expansion but was willing to be bought off with a lot of extra money for Nebraska. The compromises weren't all pretty, but they were all compromises, both for the Democrats and for Nelson. And all of the compromises made sense given where Nelson is coming from, and who he represents.
Lieberman, of course, didn't compromise. He made his demands and swore a filibuster if they weren't met. No amendments to vote down, or middle ground to find. And his ransom note had very little to do with the conditions of his state. There was no extra money to dole out, or ideological chasm to bridge. Tellingly, his colleague Chris Dodd had no problem voting for the public option, and nor did any of Connecticut's representatives in the House. As recently as November, polls showed majority support for the public option in Connecticut. As recently as June, Lieberman himself supported Medicare buy-in. That's probably why Harry Reid didn't even credit the initial signs of Lieberman's intransigence as serious. "Joe Lieberman is the least of [my] problems," he said.
But this process suggested that Democrats are going to have a lot more trouble with Lieberman than Nelson in the coming years. Nelson is more conservative than the rest of the caucus, but his conflict was calmed in pretty traditional ways -- some money for Nebraska, some compromises on hot-button issues. Lieberman's assault was much more of kamikaze strategy, and it elicited a much angrier and uncontrollable response on the left. Relations between the left and Lieberman will be even worse going forward, but Lieberman remains the Democrats' 60th vote, and he knows it. That's a tough situation for Reid.
Photo credit: By Karin Cooper/CBS’ "Face the Nation" via Associated Press
December 22, 2009; 9:06 AM ET
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