Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Feeling "relevant"

The Post's Lois Romano and Alec MacGillis do two things I wish the press covering Washington would do more of: raise questions about Lieberman's "motivation," which are promptly answered by Lieberman himself.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) has once again inserted himself into the middle of an inflamed partisan debate, raising questions about his motives, his ego and his fickle allegiance to the Democratic Party, which forgave him after he supported Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president.

Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent who caucuses with his former party, says he is feeling "relevant" as he threatens to withhold his vote -- potentially the decisive 60th -- on health-care reform legislation if it includes a government-run insurance plan. And it is hard to dispute that as Capitol Hill moves farther from the "public option," to the consternation of liberals.

Feeling "relevant" is what motivates Lieberman; specifically, being on the speed-dial of every Sunday morning talk show producer. Being the uncertain 60th vote keeps him in the limelight which in turn gives him great power, not just in Washington, but back in Connecticut, too, particularly with voters who don't pay much attention to his lies.

And calling bullshit on his lies is the second and most important thing they do in the story.

Lieberman says the public option is a sop to supporters of full government-run health insurance. He argues that the proposal lacks public support, although polls show a majority favor the concept. He says the government has no place in providing health insurance, despite its role in overseeing Medicare and Medicaid.

Most of all, he insists that a public option would drive the country further into debt. But this argument muddles how the new system will function and is at odds with independent assessments.

Under the Senate and House bills, those without employer-provided coverage would get income-based government subsidies to help buy coverage in a new insurance marketplace. The case for the public option is to reduce the cost of those subsidies by forgoing profits and reimbursing providers at lower rates, and by private insurers' rates lower via competition. A strong public option would lower the bill's cost by tens of billions of dollars, the Congressional Budget Office found.

But Lieberman has maintained that the public option alone represents a cost to the government. "He keeps saying over and over that we can't afford the public option, but the question is whether we can afford the subsidies," said John Holahan of the Urban Institute.

Confronted with the cost-saving assessments of a strong public option, Lieberman concedes the point, but he says an aggressive government-run plan would put undue pressures on medical providers and force them to shift costs to private insurers. Put simply, he opposes the public option in any form, regardless of whether it reduces costs. "If they really wanted to do something to deal with my concerns, they would take it out altogether," he said.



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