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.
The political news website Talking Points Memo had a good piece last night analyzing the four Senate Democrats who are balking at supporting the public option, or even voting to bring a bill with a public option to a vote (ie, invoking cloture): Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA).
“These are the four Democrats threatening to filibuster a public option bill down the line. They’re also in discussions with leadership and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) regarding a compromise modeled on Snowe’s trigger. How they change the bill so significantly remains unclear (can Reid round up 60 votes to swap the provisions? Does he pull the bill off the floor and reintroduce it with a different public option?) For the time being, though, liberals are turning up the heat on these four. And to succeed, they’ll need to be well aware of what buttons to push.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a VERY tough spot here. the Dems can rip Lieberman, Jim DeMint, et al in the press or even on the Senate floor all they want. It won’t matter. If no Health Care Reform passes, the Dems are going to get their rears handed to them next year and likely in 2012 as well. The public isn’t going to care that the Republicans or Joe Lieberman wouldn’t vote for cloture. All that will matter to them is that the Democrats had the White House and large majorities in both chambers of Congress and once again proved incapable of governing and actually accomplishing things.
If Reid tries to go Tony Soprano (figuratively speaking, of course!) on those four, he risks at least three of them switching parties and no longer voting with the Dems even some of the time. Lincoln, Nelson and Landrieu would likely benefit politically from this (all three represent states that President Obama lost by at least 15 points last year). Who knows with Lieberman? He represents a very blue state and votes with the Democrats on social issues and even a lot of fiscal ones, but was primaried out in 2006 (he later won re-election anyway as an independent) and may still hold a grudge against the party because of that. He campaigned for John McCain last year, yet still got to keep his committee chairmanship and place in the caucus because Reid knew he’d likely need his vote to get stuff passed. Maybe Lieberman would change parties, serve out the rest of his current term and retire in 2012. Or maybe he’s just grandstanding to get attention for himself and will back down when Reid puts the gun in his face and starts to squeeze the trigger.
Reconcilliation, which doesn’t require invoking cloture (and hence only needs 50 votes plus Vice President Joe Biden), likely won’t work either. Only certain parts can be passed that way, and which ones are at the sole discretion of the Senate parliamentarian. If you think the Republicans are fighting this viciously now, just imagine how many bogus amendments they would propose to bog things down if this goes the reconcilliation route. And even if the Dems could keep 50 votes together through that entire process and get it passed, it would have to be re-approved in 2015. If the Republicans have control of the Senate by that point, Health Care Reform is dead before it’s even had a chance to take effect.
President Obama, Democrats and health care reform supporters are giddy today over the House passing its version of reform late last night. It is certainly a big step in the right direction – a bigger one than any administration and Congress has taken since Lyndon Johnson created Medicare in the 1960s.
But I would caution those supporters to not get too giddy. Because there are still several mountains left to climb before this is a done deal.
The next one is in the Senate, which has yet to pass its own version. On paper, this shouldn’t be a problem – the Dems and those caucusing with them control 60 seats and have the Vice President – more than enough to get a simple majority. In practice, however, it’s not nearly that simple.
Senate debate rules require 60 votes to “invoke cloture,” or stop debate and bring a bill to an up-or-down vote. So Majority Leader Harry Reid actually needs 60 votes to get this done. And there are a number of Democratic caucus members who represent conservative constituencies (or are just in the pockets of the insurance companies) who will be a tough sell to get on board with a public option – one of the most critical parts of any real healthcare reform, in my opinion. This group includes Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Joe Lieberman (Connecticut). Lincoln and Bayh are both up for re-election next year. But Lieberman could be an even bigger fly in the ointment – he represents a rather liberal state (which went for Obama by 20 points last year) and votes with the Dems on most social issues. But he voted for the Iraq War and campaigned for Republican John McCain against Obama last year, even speaking at the Republican National Convention.
Reid could get around cloture rules by trying to pass the Senate’s version through budget reconcilliation, where he would need only 50 votes plus Vice President Biden. But this move would require the spending authorization to be renewed after 5 years. If the Republicans were to regain control of the Senate by that point, you know what would happen then.
The bill has already been delayed in the Senate and now may not even get passed this year, breaking President Obama’s second deadline. And if the debate goes into next year, moderate and conservative Democrats who are up for re-election in otherwise Republican districts or states are going to be even more reluctant to get on board.
Even if the Senate passes its version, it will have to be merged with the House version in conference committee. Both chambers will then have to pass the final combined version before President Obama can sign it. Same rules and obstacles will still apply.
So be happy with this step forward. But don’t pop the champagne corks just yet.