By Alexander Bolton - 12/15/09 09:27 PM EST
Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) told Democratic colleagues at a White House meeting that he regretted the tension he’d created within the conference during the healthcare debate.
Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-Independent who still caucuses with his former party, stopped short of apologizing.
in the day, Lieberman said he was likely to support the legislation now
that Democratic leaders had agreed to accept his demands and remove a
proposal that would have allowed those between the ages of 55 and 64 to
buy into Medicare. The buy-in was offered as an alternative to the
government-run health insurance proposal Lieberman and other centrists
Liberals have blamed Lieberman, some
publicly and many privately, for forcing Reid to drop the public
option, which for many liberals had been a crucial piece of reform.
most Democratic senators have been careful not to criticize the
lawmaker, whose support is necessary to reach the 60 votes Democrats
need to pass the bill.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the
most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to
blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that
responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he
could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.
bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first
place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the
truth,” said Feingold. “I think they could have been higher. I
certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every
But Feingold added there are “obviously good things
in the bill” and focusing on an individual member is not an “accurate
portrayal of what happened.”
This is not the first time
Lieberman has expressed “regret” for creating a stir by taking a
controversial position against his Democratic colleagues.
backed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election and
offended many in his party by speaking at the Republican National
Convention. After Obama won the election, Democrats considered
stripping Lieberman of his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
But Obama and Reid persuaded
Democrats to reject stiff punishment, Democrats voted to let Lieberman
stay on as chairman and Lieberman held a news conference during which
he expressed some regrets.
“There are other statements that I
made that I wish I had made more clearly,” Lieberman told reporters
after the Nov. 18, 2008, meeting in which Democrats voted to let him
keep the gavel. “And there are some I made that I wish I had not made
at all. Obviously, in the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us.
But I regret that, and now is time to move on.”
Obama once again helped smooth over hard feelings between Lieberman and
liberal Democrats, this time over the president’s top domestic
Lieberman remarked that the past few weeks hadn’t been much fun for him. Brown said he hadn’t had much fun either.
And, according to Lieberman, Obama then said, “Why don’t we all start having some fun and pass the bill?”
Democrats described the president as upbeat even though some of the
lawmakers were visibly angry and a few complained about the loss of the
public option and the Medicare buy-in.
Obama stressed what he
considered the positive aspects of the legislation, such as subsidies
to help expand health insurance coverage to more than 30 million
“The president pointed out the historic
achievement of this,” said a Senate Democrat who attended the meeting.
“He said this is a historic event and we need to get it done. The
president acknowledged we may not like this, and we may not like that,
but that there will be technical corrections and cleanup bills. But if
this fails, that’s it.”
At the White House meeting, Lieberman
told colleagues the health bill still contains provisions that he
dislikes, but that on balance he thinks it will do much to help people.
One senior Democrat in the meeting interpreted Lieberman’s
comments as an apology, although Lieberman did not actually say “sorry.”
“I don’t remember his exact words, but I took it as an apology,” said a Democratic lawmaker.
Lieberman sought to dispel that interpretation
he said. “I said, ‘I know that it’s been difficult, but this is the
nature of the process and you have to give and take.’ ”
noted that if Democrats controlled only 59 or 55 Senate seats, they
would have had to work even harder to muster 60 votes for the health
Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a principle negotiator in the healthcare talks,
agreed that other Democrats raised the same concerns as Lieberman about
the Medicare buy-in proposal.
But Lieberman became the most
high-profile opponent of the provision when he told Reid that he would
vote with Republicans to filibuster the bill unless Reid jettisoned it.
a Monday evening meeting, Reid told colleagues he would drop the
provision, as well as the public option, from the bill. Lieberman did
not speak at that meeting, colleagues said.
On Tuesday, Lieberman told reporters he is now inclined to vote for the legislation.
“I’m getting to the position where I can say what I wanted to say all along, that I’m ready to vote for healthcare reform,” he said.
This story was updated at 8:32 p.m.