Harkin warns Lieberman: Healthcare filibuster could put chairmanship at risk

One of the leading Senate Democrats on healthcare reform legislation fired a warning shot in Sen. Joe Lieberman's direction yesterday, previewing the possible consequences of joining a GOP filibuster.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, told reporters that Lieberman (I-Conn.) ought to consider the benefits of his membership in the Democratic caucus before he decides how to vote on healthcare reform.

“[Lieberman] still wants to be a part of the Democratic Party although he is a registered independent. He wants to caucus with us and, of course, he enjoys his chairmanship of the [Homeland Security] committee because of the indulgence of the Democratic caucus. So, I’m sure all of those things will cross his mind before the final vote," Harkin said in a conference call.

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Lieberman has faced questions about his loyalty to the Democratic caucus ever since he endorsed and campaigned for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president in 2008. After the election, some liberals pressed for him to be expelled from the caucus and stripped of his commitee chairmanship.

Senate Democrats, however, decided that keeping Lieberman in the caucus was a crucial step to attaining a filibuster-proof majority.

Still hoping to win his votes on healthcare, Democratic leaders have been hesitant to openly criticize him. Harkin, for his part, suggested that Lieberman would eventually come around.

“As I said before, when it comes down to getting the 60 votes necessary to pass this bill, I do not believe that Joe Lieberman would want to be the one person who caucuses with the Democrats ... to bring this bill down," Harkin said. "I don’t think he wants to go down in history like that."

But Harkin's comments suggest that the lawmakers who worked the hardest on healthcare reform won't take kindly to Lieberman joining the opposition.