Lieberman vows to filibuster bill with public option

LIEBERMAN VOWS TO FILIBUSTER BILL WITH PUBLIC OPTION…. He’s with Democrats on everything except foreign policy? I don’t think so.

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 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.”

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.

It will be a vote decades in the making, giving policymakers a once-in-a-generation opportunity. And as of today, Lieberman would rather let reform die than give some Americans in some states a choice between a public and a private insurance plan.

And fourth, pressuring Lieberman remains complicated. He’s not up for re-election until 2012, and he can’t face a primary since he’s not a Democrat. Lieberman will face heat from progressive activists, but that’s never seemed to bother him before. Will the caucus consider serious consequences for Lieberman’s betrayal (i.e., loss of committee chairmanship)? Time will tell.