Lieberman tightrope

Ever-smiley, say-it-isn’t-so Joe is the talk of the town and the Scrooge of the 2009 holiday season. Somewhere Al Gore is shaking his head.

Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-Conn.) initial warm reaction to a Medicare expansion — which he had supported in the past — and his subsequent reversal before the plan was even scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has his Democratic colleagues seething openly on the record and one fellow Connecticut delegation member pushing for his recall.

ADVERTISEMENT
Principled opposition would be one thing, but Lieberman’s latest contortions just made him look silly. First The New York Times reported that when queried about his apparent flip-flop, Lieberman said he had forgotten taking his earlier position “until the Democratic leadership reminded him about it over the weekend.”

He later admitted that it was actually Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) high hopes for a Medicare expansion to lead to a single-payer healthcare system that made him change his mind.

“Congressman Weiner made a comment that Medicare buy-in is better than a public option [because] it’s the beginning of a road to single-payer,” Lieberman said.

“If this wasn’t so sad,” Weiner said in a statement following the latest Lieberman bombshell, “it would be amazing.”

The open secret is that Lieberman wasn’t the only one opposed to expanding Medicare. The White House knew there were others and sought a deal that would include neither a public option nor expanded Medicare. Also, telling the leadership last weekend, before a poor CBO score could have killed off the compromise, probably helped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decide sooner on a final deal that could win 60 votes and get the bill off the floor by Christmas Eve.

The Reid and Lieberman relationship is significant. During a Senate Democratic Conference squabble last winter over whether Lieberman should be allowed to remain chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Reid defended Lieberman and told his colleagues he trusted him. Lieberman survived.

Then this fall, as Lieberman was threatening filibusters on healthcare reform to anyone who would listen, Reid said “Joe Lieberman is the least of my problems.” In early November our paper ran a story that reported Reid’s staff was telling liberal groups Lieberman would support the motion to proceed and not filibuster the process of bringing healthcare reform to the floor.

ADVERTISEMENT
This turned out to be correct. As of this writing, Lieberman seems to be supporting the current bill, stripped of anything liberal Democrats wanted.

Indeed, unlike his friend Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who refers to the Democratic healthcare bill as a Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, Lieberman has repeatedly pledged his desire to pass reform. “We’ve got a great health insurance reform bill here,” he said cheerily Tuesday.

Later that same day, Lieberman declared to other Democrats at the White House meeting, “What’s happening isn’t any fun for me.” Given his friendship with Reid, he can likely salvage his standing in the conference. This could involve attempting to bring one or both Republican senators from Maine aboard. Or Lieberman can decide once again to suddenly find something new to object to. Then his fun will run out for good.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.