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Time for Reid to ditch Lieberman, save health care reform

Photo credit Talking Points Memo

Enough is enough.

The news last night that Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is threatening to filibuster health care reform with a Medicare Buy-In,  a compromise spurred by Lieberman’s threats to filibuster the public option, is the last straw. It’s time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to strip Joe Lieberman of his commitee chairmanship, maybe even kick him out of the Senate Democratic Caucus, then go through moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) or some other means to get Health Care Reform passed.

Enough trying to figure out a member of the Democratic caucus from a very blue state who won’t keep his word. Enough trying to placate a senator who seems content on wrecking his caucus’ most important piece of legislation this Congress, specifically a component of it that, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 56% of his constituents in Connecticut FAVOR. It’s time for Reid to drop the hammer on this guy and move on before the Democratic party gets destroyed next year.

I don’t know if Lieberman is still bitter about being primaried out by Ned Lamont in 2006 or what. But ever since he won re-election as an independent that year (Connecticut allows primary losers to do so), Lieberman has increasingly gone against the Democratic Party and, therefore, most of his constituents back home. He endorsed and campaigned for Republican John McCain for President last year. Reid let him keep his chairmanship and caucus spot after that, knowing that he’d need him to avert Republican filibusters and get the party’s agenda passed this year. And that gamble has backfired big time, to the point that it is now seriously threatening the legislation that will play a huge rule in determing the party’s electoral fortunes next year and possibly in 2012 as well.

First, Lieberman threatened to filibuster the public option. He wouldn’t even accept one with a trigger, the way Snowe has. Realizing they didn’t have the votes to pass a public option along the lines of what is in the House version, Reid and a group of his fellow Democratic senators composed a compromise that replaces the public option with a Medicare buy-in. But even before the new proposal was scored by the Congressional Budget Office (the CBO report should be in by the middle of this week), Lieberman said yesterday that he’d filibuster that too. Not allow to go to a vote and simply vote against – filibuster.

If Reid strips Lieberman of his chairmanship and/or kicks him out of the caucus, it’s not like the Republicans are going to welcome Lieberman with open arms. Lieberman remains pro-choice and has other liberal view points that won’t help him with the Republican leadership. And at this point Lieberman isn’t going to get re-elected in 2012 no matter what party he runs on. I suppose he could resign in a snit and leave Jodi Rell, Connecticut’s Republican Governor, to appoint a Republican replacement. But that Republican wouldn’t be much more damaging to the Democratic party’s cause than Lieberman has.

As for what alternatives Reid has without Lieberman, he could work with Snowe, who won’t state her position on the compromise until the CBO report comes back but at least has been relatively consistent. If Reid had Lyndon Johnson’s you-know-whats (which he doesn’t), he could twist the arms of other Democratic senators (like Nebaska’s Ben Nelson and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu) to get on board. But at least Nelson is consistent – he represents a very conservative constituency.

Reid could also try to do what Trent Lott and Co. famously tried to do in 2005 and invoke the “nuclear option” – change Senate rules to end debate with only a simple majority of the Senate, as opposed to the current 60 votes needed. The Republicans would certainly howl for blood if that happened, but they tried it first.

Using budget reconciliation (which only requires 50 votes plus Vice President Joe Biden) to pass the more controversial parts of the bill is probably not an option either. The bill is too complex, the Republicans would force the caucus to hold together through even more objections than it is now and if it was going to happen, Reid needed to do it already.

Whatever Reid does, health care reform needs to get through the Senate, go through conference committee and pass both chambers again. It MUST get done, or the normal losses the President’s party suffers in his first midterm elections will be catastrophic ones. Republicans are going to be motivated to take down the other party next year as it is. If health care reform doesn’t get passed, the Democratic base will stay home as well.

Health Care Reform must get done. And at this point, that means telling Lieberman to leave.

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One response

  1. It is no accident that one Senator can be an obstructionist. He, and the filibuster for that matter, remind us that the governmental sovereignty allowed the state governments is what is really represented in the US Senate (unlike in the US House of Reps). As frustrating as it is, there is a trade off in wiping this out in favor of remaking the US Senate on the basis of the principles of the US House…trade offs given the scale of the US. and what the US is. For this argument, pls see http://euandus3.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/will-there-be-a-health-reform-bill-out-of-the-us-senate/

    December 18, 2009 at 1:12 pm

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