Once Again, Joe Lieberman Reminds Us He's An Independent : It's All Politics Connecticut Joe Lieberman's opposition to one part of the health care bill currently before the Senate threatens its passage.
NPR logo Once Again, Joe Lieberman Reminds Us He's An Independent

Once Again, Joe Lieberman Reminds Us He's An Independent

The progressive/left blogosphere is up in arms, once again, over Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut Independent who has been driving his fellow Democrats nuts for years.

The latest: Yesterday, on CBS' "Face the Nation," Lieberman said he could not vote for the health-care overhaul legislation, in its current form, that is making its way through the Senate. Lieberman's main objection was to the Medicare buy-in program — a plan that would let people as young as 55 buy into Medicare. He said it would drastically increase the plan's price tag:

It has some of the same infirmities that the public option did. It will add taxpayer costs. It will add to the deficit. It's unnecessary.

Assuming, for the moment, that all 40 Republicans vote against the bill — Maine's Olympia Snowe, who has been wooed by the Dems, also signaled she would oppose a bill that included the Medicare buy-in — then the defection by Lieberman (as well as by Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who has his own issues) — could spell the death knell to the overall package.

UPDATE: Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown is reporting that the White House is "encouraging" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to "cut a deal" with Lieberman, "which would mean eliminating the proposed Medicare expansion in the health reform bill":

But Reid is described as so frustrated with Lieberman that he is not ready to sacrifice a key element of the health care bill, and first wants to see the Congressional Budget Office cost analysis of the Medicare buy-in. The analysis is expected early this week.

Budoff Brown quotes one official "close to the negotiations" as saying, "There is a weariness and a lot of frustration that one person is holding up the will of 59 others. There is still too much anger and confusion at one particular senator's reversal." Democrats, she writes, "have only limited options":

Reach an agreement with Lieberman, which would mean stripping out the provisions that have kept progressives on board. This will likely cause problems on the left — maybe even defections — unless the White House steps in to persuade senators such as Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Win over Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), but she has also voiced serious reservations about the Medicare expansion, and has resisted pressure from the White House and Senate Democrats to finish the bill by Christmas.

Reid has called for a special Democratic caucus meeting today at 5:30 p.m.

Of course, this is hardly the first time Lieberman has perplexed his fellow Democrats. Mark Murray, writing in the NBC News tipsheet First Read, reminds us:

First, he loses his Senate primary in '06 (due in large part to his support for the war in Iraq). Then he wins the general election (thanks largely to a Republican nominee who was only able to draw 10% of the vote). He returns to the Senate as an "Independent-Democrat" who will caucus with the Democrats. But then he not only backs his friend John McCain in the presidential election, but also nearly pulls a Zell Miller. "When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion and support the surge," Lieberman said at the GOP convention. Finally, after the election, Democrats welcome him back and allow him to keep his committee chairmanship. Now this...

A CBS News blog sugggests that while Senate Democrats have "few options," they do have "some political leverage," including the possibility of stripping him of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, "a post he holds at the pleasure of the Democratic-controlled Senate."

Would the leadership strip Lieberman of his committee chairmanship? It's hard to envision, but if Lieberman is responsible for the bill's defeat, then who knows? The Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis notes in the Washington Wire blog that a recent poll commissioned by two liberal groups, Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, showed more than 80 percent of Democrats want Lieberman stripped of the chairmanship if he sides with Republicans on health care; just 10 percent of Dems said there should be no punishment. Davis adds, "Most liberals fell out of love with Joe Lieberman a long time ago, or at least when he backed" McCain in 2008.

(If Lieberman is driving Democrats back home in Connecticut batty, the party is also going through some trepidations over the re-election prospects of Sen. Chris Dodd (D) next year. A good piece today from the New York Times' Peter Applebome about Dodd's woes here.)

And Joe isn't the only Lieberman targeted. Firedoglake, the liberal blog penned by Jane Hamsher, has called on Susan G. Komen for the Cure to "dump Hadassah [Mrs. Joe] Lieberman as its 'Global Ambassador' due to her ties to the same healthcare industry that is actively fighting Congressional healthcare reform":

Hadassah, a former senior counselor for Hill and Knowlton, who specialized in "healthcare and pharmaceutical practices", also worked as a consultant for Pfizer and ALCO. Her husband, Senator Joe Lieberman, has been one of the chief opponents in the US Senate of health reforms that would help prevent millions of women from combating cancer and other serious illnesses, a cause inconsistent with Komen.

"We are asking Ellen DeGeneres, Christie Brinkley and other high-profile celebrities who are associated with Komen to demand that no more money raised for cancer treatment be given to Hadassah Lieberman or any other ex-Pharma/Insurance strategists," said Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher.

"People who are racing for the cure wouldn't be racing to pay Hadassah Lieberman money, especially if they knew her ties to the same corporations that are blocking women's health reforms currently being debated in Congress."

But, as the Hartford Courant's Daniela Altimari writes, Komen spokeswoman Pam Stevens says the group is standing by Mrs. Lieberman:

"Hadassah Lieberman is an important and valued Global Ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure,'' the group said in an email this morning from spokeswoman Pam Stevens. "As a Global Ambassador, Ms. Lieberman is focused on helping us reach out and educate women outside our borders about breast cancer, sharing our knowledge and experience in a culturally sensitive way that is making a real impact on the lives of women across the globe. We have every intention of continuing our relationship with Ms. Lieberman in our mutual pursuit of a world without breast cancer."