Lieberman on the sidelines

LIEBERMAN ON THE SIDELINES…. A few days ago, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was putting together the “Team of Ten,” he specifically extended an invitation to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), making him one of the five center-right members of the caucus in a position to shape a public-option compromise.

Lieberman decided not to show up. Roll Call reports that the Connecticut senator just doesn’t want to get in the game.

Senate Democratic centrists and liberals have been working feverishly since last week to craft a compromise on the public health insurance option, but one invitee has been curiously absent. […]

Senate Democratic aides said Monday that Lieberman’s decision to skip meetings that could prove crucial to Reid’s ability to pass a bill may suggest that Lieberman’s vote is out of reach.

Lieberman’s office said Monday that the self-described Independent Democrat has not attended in person because he feels he has been unambiguous about where he stands.

But that’s not much of an explanation — nearly all of the other nine senators have also been unambiguous about where they stand. But they agreed to show up, engage in good-faith talks, search for common ground, and work on a solution. It’s what lawmakers do.

It’s always best to keep expectations low when it comes to Lieberman, but I am a little surprised about his refusal to engage. Part of his schtick is his alleged ability to leverage his independence to “bridge the gaps” and “bring disparate people together.” But in the biggest policy fight of the year, Lieberman has decided he prefers the sidelines.

This not only undermines his image, it also denies Lieberman a chance to grandstand. The 10 senators doing the heavy lifting are the ones who’ll get the credit for resolving the problem (if they’re successful, that is), while Lieberman will be remembered as the one who decided not to try.

Meanwhile, as talks continue, it’s unclear how Lieberman feels about the state of the debate. Maybe he’ll like the proposed compromise — it lacks a public plan that he finds so offensive — or maybe he’ll find new reasons to justify his opposition. (Lieberman’s good at that.)

Either way, there’s growing talk that the 60th vote may come from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), not Joe Lieberman. One senior Democratic source told Roll Call, “Snowe’s all about the policy, but she’s aware of the politics. Lieberman is all about the politics, but he doesn’t seem to be consistent on policies considering where he was in the past.”