Brian Beutler at TPM:
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told reporters today that he would in fact filibuster any health care bill he doesn’t agree with–and right now, he doesn’t agree with the public option proposal making its way through the Senate.
“I told Senator Reid that I’m strongly inclined–i haven’t totally decided, but I’m strongly inclined–to vote to proceed to the health care debate, even though I don’t support the bill that he’s bringing together because it’s important that we start the debate on health care reform because I want to vote for health care reform this year. But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill.”
There are two procedural issues at play here. Most people think of a filibuster as a minority blocking passage of a bill that’s already been debated ad nauseum on the Senate floor. That’s the most standard filibuster. But on major legislation, it’s become more common for the minority–in this case the Republicans–to object to the majority getting a chance to debate legislation in the first place. If any one of them objects to the so-called motion to proceed, it will take 60 votes just to start the amendment and debate process. That’s a less-discussed filibuster, but it’s quite plausible that this health care bill will have to contend with it.
Lieberman is saying that he’s pretty much OK with letting senators offer amendments–try to change the legislation, move it in any direction they deem necessary. But when that process is all over, and Harry Reid wants to hold an up or down vote on the final product, Lieberman’s saying he’ll join that filibuster, if he’s not happy with the finished product. Point blank.
Let’s break this down a bit. Lieberman is prepared to vote with Democrats to support a motion to proceed — that is, he’ll allow health care reform to move on to the Senate where it will be debated, be subjected to amendments, etc.
But after that stage, the reform bill will eventually be ready for a vote. At that point, a Republican filibuster will mandate 60 votes in order to let the Senate approve or reject the legislation. And Lieberman vowed today to join with Republicans — if the bill gives eligible consumers a choice of public and private health coverage, Lieberman will work with the GOP to kill health care reform.
There are several angles to keep in mind. First, Lieberman says his main objection to public-private competition and giving consumers a choice is cost — he believes the public option is more expensive than the alternative. Lieberman apparently hasn’t been paying attention, and doesn’t realize this is backwards. He’s basing his entire opposition on one provision that he doesn’t seem to understand.
Second, Politico reported late last week, “An aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said that, while the senator does not favor a public option with a state exemption, he would not vote to filibuster the bill.” I guess he’s changed his mind.
Third, it’s worth appreciating how extreme Lieberman’s position really is. For some reform advocates, the starting point was single-payer. Then there was a compromise to a robust public option. Then there was another compromise to a negotiated public option. Then there was yet another compromise to a negotiated public option with a state opt-out. Lieberman is saying these compromises aren’t enough — his opposition to competition and giving consumers a choice is so intense, he’d rather kill health care reform then let senators even vote on the bill.
Who will Reid blame now?
Meredith Jessup at Townhall
Pete Abel at Moderate Voice
Matt Corley at Think Progress:
Lieberman claims that he wants to “vote for health care reform this year” and that the public option is a sticking point for him. But he also opposed the Baucus bill, which did not contain a public option. Last week, he told NPR, “If I decide in the end the bill that is about to leave the Senate is gonna do more harm than good, then I won’t vote for cloture at that point.”
UPDATE: Jonathan Chait at TNR:
It literally makes no sense whatsoever. A public plan does not provide a new entitlement. It just doesn’t. It’s a different form of providing an entitlement. Nor is it more expensive. In fact, the stronger versions of the public plan would cost less money. Lieberman is just babbling nonsense here.
Another reason for his position, of course, is that Connecticut is home to some huge insurance companies, who don’t want any new competition. But the other Connecticut Senator isn’t threatening a filibuster. I think Lieberman is the one to watch. My guess is that ultimately he’ll vote for reform, but he’ll do so because the Democrats will scale back their plan and win over Olympia Snowe, making Lieberman’s opposition academic. Lieberman won’t join a futile filibuster, but if he has the chance to stick in the knife and kill health care reform, I think he’d probably jump at the chance.
Now — the final bill, post-conference, is going to look a bit different from the reconciled Senate bill. Lieberman is giving himself the power to influence the final bill. I doubt that the Senate leadership is going to press him too hard right now, preferring to see if he can be accommodated in the final debate.
UPDATE: Matt Corley at Think Progress