By J. Taylor Rushing - 10/26/09 10:00 AM EDT
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), one of a handful of Senate wild cards in this fall’s healthcare reform debate, says his concern about the Senate bill is based on the national deficit — not the insurers that dominate his state.
The Connecticut senator told The Hill he may support a bill that taxes insurers or cuts into their profits, but only if the federal deficit won’t balloon as a result.
Connecticut has the highest U.S. concentration of insurance jobs, with the industry accounting for about 64,000 jobs as of June 2009, according to the state’s labor department. That’s down 23 percent from the 83,000 jobs in 1990, although the state projects a slow growth of 4 percent through 2014. The state is home to 72 insurance headquarters, with three times the U.S. average of insurance jobs as a percent of total state employment. The state’s unemployment rate currently stands at 8.6 percent.
Lieberman has long since formed his own unique caucus — aligning himself with Democrats although he is an independent, supporting the party on domestic but usually not foreign affairs, keeping his committee chairmanship in the Democratic-led Senate although he campaigned with 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.). Most recently, last week he was among 12 Democrats who blocked Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) effort to pass a bill averting Medicare payment cuts starting next year.
Asked what he might ask of Reid in exchange for his support of healthcare reform, Lieberman repeated his insistence that the bill not harm the deficit.
“I want to be able to vote for a health bill, but my top concern is the deficit,” he said.
One unlikely ally of Lieberman’s is state GOP Chairman Chris Healy, who said he agrees with the senator’s skepticism about the bill and that he sees few faults in Lieberman’s support for home-state interests.
“What we have a lot of here in Connecticut is people in the pharmaceutical industry, biotech and physicians,” Healy said. “They’re the ones who can figure this out, not the government. Joe Lieberman, even though he’s very liberal sometimes, understands that.
“I don’t think the industry is going to have their feelings hurt if he’s not waving pom-poms. They just don’t want Congress to nationalize the management of risk. While I criticize him a lot, to me he’s making the most sense out of all the Democrats on this.”