Lieberman: Doing nothing on healthcare better than government-run option

Sen. Joe Lieberman said Sunday it's worth defeating a healthcare overhaul in order to prevent the creation of a government-run health insurance program.

Interviewed on CBS's "Face the Nation," the independent member of the Democratic Caucus said doing "nothing" is better than a so-called public option.

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"'Nothing' is better than getting that," Lieberman said. "We ought to follow the doctors' oath and say, 'First, let's do no harm.'"

The Connecticut lawmaker said fixing the economy and creating jobs is a higher priority than healthcare, and a government-run insurance plan would damage the economy by hiking premiums, raising taxes or increasing the national debt.

Supporters of the public option say that it would help drive down premiums and lower healthcare costs by competing with private insurance companies who often dominate their markets.

The House bill to be debated next week in the House has a public option. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated that he will include a public option in the Senate version, despite doubts about whether it can get enough votes to pass.

Those doubts grew last week when Lieberman announced he would join a Republican filibuster to prevent a public option. Lieberman is one of the 60 votes that Senate leaders count on to get the 60 votes they need to end Republican filibusters.

"I'm not going to filibuster to stop the debate on healthcare reform from beginning because I want to have that debate," Lieberman said Sunday. "I want to have healthcare reform. ...But I feel so strongly about the creation of another government health insurance entitlement, the government going into the health insurance business, I think it's such a mistake that I would use the power I have as a single senator to stop a final vote."

Supporters lashed out at Lieberman's announcement last week, saying he was catering to the insurance companies headquartered in his state. One liberal Democrat, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), tied it to the campaign contributions Lieberman has received from the industry.

Lieberman has gotten $2.6 million from the health sector during his time in the Senate, according to Opensecrets.com, ranking him 15th highest in Congress.

Lieberman rejected that idea Sunday, saying he filed anti-trust cases against companies when he was Connecticut attorney general and supports ending the industry's anti-trust exemption.

"I have never hesitated to get tough on insurance companies when I thought they were wrong," Lieberman said.

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He said it was his critics who insist on a public option who threaten the prospects for passing a bill.

"By having a litmus test, they're stopping us from getting anything done," Lieberman said.

Also Sunday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) outlined how he plans to offer an alternative healthcare proposal in the House. He has previously said he will have an alternative and Democratic leaders have said they will allow a vote on it.

Boehner said the Congressional Budget Office is currently "scoring," or drafting a cost estimate, for a bill that takes "eight or nine" of the principles Republicans have espoused.

"We do not increase taxes, we do not cut Medicaid or Medicare, and do not have mandates on individuals or businesses," Boehner said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I'm hopeful that Speaker Pelosi will allow us to offer an alternative."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated she may not allow amendments by Republicans or her fellow Democrats. But House Democratic leaders have said Republicans will get a vote on their proposal. Asked last week if the Republican proposal will be available to the public for three days prior to the vote, as he and others have demanded for Pelosi's bill, Boehner was noncommittal.