Lieberman's Health Care Shift Gets Mixed Reviews Sen. Joe Lieberman has been confounding congressional leaders in the health care debate. He may also be angering Democratic constituents back home in Connecticut, as well. But he doesn't face reelection until 2012 — and some voters approve of his strategy.
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Lieberman's Health Care Shift Gets Mixed Reviews

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Lieberman's Health Care Shift Gets Mixed Reviews

Lieberman's Health Care Shift Gets Mixed Reviews

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Now, for a while this week it looked like Senator Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, might doom the Democrats attempt to change health care. And then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave into Lieberman's demands. In Washington and elsewhere, many Democrats were furious. This morning we're going to gauge the reaction in Lieberman's home state of Connecticut.

From member station WNPR, Diane Orson reports.

DIANE ORSON: The Tower Grill is a small diner, just off Route 8 in an industrial area in Waterbury, Connecticut. During his political campaigns, Senator Joseph Lieberman routinely stops at diners like the Tower for his Cuppa Joe sessions - scrambled eggs, O.J. and a chance to talk with state residents, like Myrna Wantanabe.

But mention Lieberman's name this morning, and Wantanabe gets pretty caffeinated � and that's without any coffee.

Ms. MYRNA WANTANABE (Member, Democratic Central Committee, Connecticut): I would hope that this is the end of him politically. I mean, I would truly hope that he is politically finished. I'm pretty angry, as you can tell.

ORSON: Wantanabe is a member of Connecticut's Democratic Central Committee. She says Democrats in the state are furious over Lieberman's opposition to expanding Medicare coverage � an idea he championed as Al Gore's running mate back in 2000, and supported just three months ago.

Ms. WANTANABE: The word that comes to mind is a word that one of my fellow State Central Committee members used in discussing him � and it's duplicitous. What does Joe want?

ORSON: Mark Pazniokas has covered Joe Lieberman as a reporter for The Hartford Courant, both when Lieberman was serving as a Democrat and since he was reelected as an independent three years ago. Pazniokas says the answer may be center stage. Pazniokas calls Lieberman the luckiest guy in politics because his vote has been so crucial to Democrats.

Mr. MARK PAZNIOKAS (Reporter, The Hartford Courant): In 2006, when he won reelection, the Democrats needed him to get to the magic number of 51 senators. Now, they need him for 60 votes, which is necessary to move business, to ward off filibusters. So who has that kind of luck? He is the guy.

ORSON: But Lieberman, whose term is up in 2012, may not be the kind of guy Connecticut Democrats continue to stand behind.

Rabbi Joseph Ron Fish has always voted for Lieberman, despite disagreeing with the senator's support of the Iraq war. But not any longer. Lieberman's stance on health care prompted Rabbi Fish to write a letter, signed by nearly 300 clergy across the state, calling on Lieberman to rethink his position on health care.

Mr. JOSEPH RON FISH (Rabbi): He said that it was a matter of conscience for him. And for me, this was a bridge too far. As a matter of conscience, I felt that it was important for the senator to hear from me, a constituent, a person who also is guided by conscience, and a member of his religious community.

ORSON: But not all Connecticut residents disagree with Lieberman.

Mr. BOB VERRASTRO (Retired Investigator, Connecticut Department of Labor): I think he's the only sane Democrat.

ORSON: Back at the Tower Grill, Bob Verrastro finishes up his breakfast. He's a retired investigator for the State Labor Department and a registered Republican.

Mr. VERRASTRO: I'm a conservative, and Mr. Lieberman is a conservative Democrat � and he's had my vote, even running against Republicans.

ORSON: And Gary Saam, a state social worker, says Lieberman's doing the best he can to lower the cost of health care.

Mr. GARY SAAM (Social Worker): He's trying to hold all sides accountable. I trust Joe and his instincts.

ORSON: But state Democrats are worried � and Joe Lieberman is not their only headache. Senator Chris Dodd's poll numbers are so low, some in the party, like Myrna Wantanabe, say he can't win re-election next year.

But despite his trouble, Wantanabe says she's always got a pretty good sense where Dodd stands on the issues, and that's something she lost a long time ago with Joe Lieberman.

For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.

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