Paying the ransom

PAYING THE RANSOM…. Joe Lieberman decided he’d kill health care reform unless the Medicare buy-in and any vestige of the public option were removed. As of last night, the Senate Democratic caucus, feeling as if it had no choice, seemed resigned to meeting the Connecticut senator’s demands.

[O]n Monday night, Democratic senators emerged from a tense 90-minute closed-door session and suggested that they were on the verge of bowing to Mr. Lieberman’s main demands: that they scrap a plan to let people buy into Medicare beginning at age 55, and scotch even a fallback version of a new government-run health insurance plan, or public option.

Mr. Lieberman said he believed that the Medicare expansion was off the table, though he did not get any guarantee. “Not an explicit assurance, no,” he said. “But put me down tonight as encouraged at the direction in which these discussions are going.”

There were concerns early yesterday that the more progressive members of the Democratic caucus might balk at a bill lacking their key priorities. As of last night, it appeared that they, too, had grudgingly agreed to accept the weaker bill.

Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the loss of the provisions was bowing to “reality.” He added, “There’s good stuff in the bill. It’s a giant step forward. We’re changing the paradigm of health care in America.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), another champion of the public option, told reporters, “I want to see health care reform. There’s going to be a good bill.” Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), who helped strike the deal for a Medicare buy-in last week, added, “We’re not going to get all that we want. But we’re going to get so much more than we have.”

So, where does that leave us? Obviously, with a reform bill lacking key progressive priorities. But I’m also wondering about the head-count.

As of yesterday morning, reform had 58 votes. If the public option and Medicare expansion are gone, as they appear to be, and no liberal Dems walk away, it will likely bring Lieberman into the fold (unless he finds something new to object to). If my math is right, 58 + 1 = 59. The goal, obviously, is 60.

And with that in mind

[S]oon after the speech, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) left the session early, telling reporters he remained undecided.

It’s likely that if the public option and Medicare buy-in are, in fact, gone, outreach to Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine may go slightly better, though Snowe reportedly doesn’t want a vote until January.

Stay tuned.