It’s the Yuletide season, and Democrats are in a giving mood. Nancy Pelosi says the House’s tax-raising, Medicare-cutting, trillion-dollar-spending health bill is her “Christmas present to the American people.” In the Senate, Harry Reid is desperate to pass his version of health care reform before Santa begins his annual world tour. And President Barack Obama will sign anything — and we mean anything — he can tout during next year’s State of the Union.
There’s a gentleman in the Senate who can save the country from an Obamacare Christmas disaster. And not because he happens to celebrate Hanukkah.
Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the independent Democrat, is the key man blocking a bad bill. Why? Simple arithmetic. If no Republican defects, then Harry Reid will need the support of all 60 senators who caucus with the Democrats to end debate and proceed to a final vote on health care.
Last week the two most likely GOP defectors, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, both signaled they won’t support Reid’s bill. The loss of just one Democrat, therefore, will scuttle the “deal” Reid is cobbling together.
In the past, Lieberman has displayed the courage and independence necessary to tell his party it’s on the wrong track. In 1998, he pointed out that President Bill Clinton’s affair with an intern was a moral transgression that deserved rebuke. From 2006 to 2008, when Democratic politicians and commentators ran away from an Iraq war that was going badly, Lieberman stuck with his principles and backed the surge of troops and counterinsurgency strategy that has put Iraq on the (bumpy) road to normalcy.
Lieberman’s reward was a left-wing primary challenge in 2006 that succeeded in depriving him of the Democratic nomination. Running as an independent, he nevertheless won the general election. In doing so, he became even more free to do what’s right, regardless of political calculation.
Lieberman’s current skepticism toward the Democratic health bills is shared by the public. Recent surveys conducted by Gallup, Quinnipiac, the New York Times/CBS and CNN all show support for the pending legislation continuing to sink. Despite the Democrats’ and the president’s best efforts, the public seems convinced that Obamacare will increase taxes, deficits and premiums and make health care worse.
Last week, in their frantic quest for a legislative victory, Senate Democrats decided to abandon the public option in favor of a scheme that would allow individuals between 55 and 64 years old to buy in to Medicare. Leave aside the propriety of trying to ram through the Senate a consequential piece of legislation — a major part of which hasn’t gone through committee mark-up or been thoroughly debated. The Medicare buy-in is the AIG of health care reform.
It would pump even more money into an already failing enterprise, costing citizens even more — in higher taxes, in the rationing of care, or both — for an ultimate bailout. It would create an adverse-selection problem where the only folks buying in are high-risk and thus more expensive to insure.
And it would replace the public option — which liberals always viewed as a step toward single-payer health care — with, well, single-payer health care. No wonder Paul Krugman and Howard Dean are happy. No wonder Lieberman has “increasing concerns.”
Nor is he alone. A small group of red state Democratic senators are also wary of Reid’s bill, we hear. But they are hedging. No one wants to be the first to say he or she will oppose the president’s top domestic priority.
Who is the bold, courageous voice speaking for the country? If Lieberman blows the whistle, surely other Democrats — who know how bad this legislation really is — will follow.
Someone has to go first. That’s Joe. And then bipartisan majorities can pass sensible health care reforms next year. That’s what we call Joementum.
Matthew Continetti is an associate editor at The Weekly Standard, from which this article was adapted.