Monday, December 14, 2009

Sociopathic Indifference

Atrios: Nobody Could Predicted
We tried to warn them about Lieberman.

They never listen.
QOTD, Steve Benen:
There was a thought, early on in the process, that Lieberman was blowing a lot of smoke, but when push came to shove, he didn't want to be known forever as the man who killed health care reform. That thought was wrong.
QOTD2, Susie Madrak:

So it comes down to this: Joe Lieberman got his widdle feelings hurt, and so Joe will do anything to get back at the mean liberals who hurt his feelings - even if it means hundreds of thousands of people have to die without health care.

Doesn't that make him a sociopath? And doesn't that make the Democrats co-conspirators?

Beutler (TPM): Health Care Reform In Peril; Lieberman Threatens Filibuster Over Medicare Buy In

In a move that senior leadership aides say has left them stunned, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that he will filibuster a tentative public option compromise unless it's stripped of its key component: a measure that would allow people aged 55-64 to buy insurance through Medicare.

The development casts substantial doubt on whether or not a health care reform bill can pass in the Senate, and even more doubt on whether a bill that does pass the Senate will be reconcilable with substantially more progressive House legislation in such a way that a final reform package can once again pass in both chambers of Congress.

Lieberman told Reid this afternoon, after a contentious appearance on Face the Nation, that he's a "no" vote on the new compromise unless the Medicare buy-in is stripped, and he's not even waiting for the CBO to weigh in--a move one leadership aide described as "extremely unfair."

What makes the new turn even more outlandish in the eyes of leadership and others is that Lieberman ran for Vice President on a platform that included a Medicare buy-in for people not-yet eligible for the program. Last week, he and Reid clashed when Lieberman began raising less definitive objections to the plan.

This afternoon, on Face the Nation, Lieberman said that, to get 60 votes, "You've got to take out the Medicare buy-in. You've got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the Class Act, which was a whole new entitlement program that will, in future years, put us further into deficit. And you've got to adopt some of the cost containment provisions that will strengthen cost containment, that all of us favor."

Soon thereafter came the confrontation in Reid's office, and that's left the prospects of the Medicare buy-in--and the greater reform bill--very much in doubt.

On Friday, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) told me and other reporters that she opposes the Medicare buy-in but, when pressed, did not make an explicit filibuster threat, saying instead that she'd make her final decision when CBO weighs in. A report is expected early this week.

This past Wednesday, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)--who is now skeptical of the Medicare buy-in proposal--was singing a somewhat different tune. Though he insisted his ultimate support for the public option compromise was contingent on a passing CBO score, he told me that he and other health care principals liked the idea in theory. "I'm not aware of anything that was raising serious objections about it, I think it was about, 'Well, that sounds okay, let's see how it scores,'" Nelson said.

The very next day, he told reporters he was concerned the Medicare buy-in would become a vehicle for single-payer, and cast doubt on its ultimate viability. "I wouldn't be surprised if this thing does not become a viable option," Nelson said. "I think it is going to be the lesser of the popular things, but I am keeping an open mind."

I asked him about his swift change in tone late Friday.

"Conceptually, I am concerned about the Medicare buy-in, the more I've thought about it," Nelson said. "I think the numbers will be very disturbing if for no other reason you already have underpayment in Medicare right now for providers, so shoring that up has to be accomplished--where does the money come from and what have you."

With Lieberman out, and with Snowe and Nelson leaning no, that leaves Reid shy of the 60 votes he needs to seal the deal.

So what happens if he strips the buy-in? That may do him no good. Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) has suggested he'll filibuster a bill without a viable public option, and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has said he can not support a bill that includes only private insurance options for consumers, who will be required to have insurance under the terms of the legislation.

And even if their cloture votes can be won, it's not at all clear if a health care bill with no public option and no Medicare buy-in can pass in the House. The only other way forward for Democrats, if all of the usual options are exhausted, is to pass health care reform through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process--an option leadership has all but foreclosed upon. In other words, it's going to be a long week. Stay tuned.

Late Update: Here's the video of Lieberman on Face the Nation.

Now that Lieberman clinched the Monday morning headlines and will get the most attention on Morning Joe, what will drama queens John McCain and Ben Nelson do to get back in the news?
  • from the comments:


    I think Nelson is ready to douse himself with gasoline and set himself on fire on the steps of the Capitol Building if he does not get the abortion amendment into the HCR bill…

Ezra Klein: Joe Lieberman: Let's not make a deal!

The Huffington Post and Roll Call are both reporting that Joe Lieberman notified Harry Reid that he will filibuster health-care reform if the final bill includes an expansion of Medicare. Previously, Lieberman had been cool to the idea, saying he wanted to make sure it wouldn't increase the deficit or harm Medicare's solvency (and previously to that, he supported it as part of the Gore/Lieberman health-care plan). That comforted some observers, as the CBO is expected to say it will do neither. Someone must have given Lieberman a heads-up on that, as he's decided to make his move in advance of the CBO score, the better to ensure the facts of the policy couldn't impede his opposition to it.

To put this in context, Lieberman was invited to participate in the process that led to the Medicare buy-in. His opposition would have killed it before liberals invested in the idea. Instead, he skipped the meetings and is forcing liberals to give up yet another compromise. Each time he does that, he increases the chances of the bill's failure that much more. And if there's a policy rationale here, it's not apparent to me, or to others who've interviewed him. At this point, Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals. That is to say, he seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score.

This leaves Reid in a tough spot. Sam Stein runs through his remaining options, none of which are very good:

The first is to convince the Senator to support Democrats in breaking a Republican filibuster before casting a vote against the bill. This would allow for the legislation to pass with Lieberman still registering his opposition. Lieberman, however, has said he considers the procedural vote to cut off debate to be of the same significance as a vote on the bill itself.

The second path is to try and pick up a Republican moderate. But this too seems unlikely, as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Reid's best bet, has also expressed opposition to the Medicare buy-in provision.

The third path would be to appease Lieberman and wipe the provisions that he deems controversial from the bill. This, however, would likely lose Reid several progressive votes -- advancing the cause no further.

The final path would be to try the reconciliation, the parliamentary procedure that would allow Democrats to pass chunks of health care reform by a simple up or down vote. There are a host of hurdles that come with going down this route, including questions over what, exactly, could be passed. And at this point both the White House and Reid's office seem hesitant to use the procedural tool, even after Lieberman's latest round of opposition.

Reid could also try and find another compromise, but it's not clear there are many of those left. And at this point, the underlying dynamic seems to be that Lieberman will destroy any compromise the left likes. That, in fact, seems to be the compromise: Lieberman will pass the bill if he can hurt liberals while doing so. From Lieberman's perspective, the compromise is killing the compromise.

Sprung (Daily Dish): Lieberman sticks the shiv in

Since Olympia Snowe has also come out against the Medicare expansion, it would appear that the Gang of 10's compromise is dead and that a bill can't get through the Senate with either a public option or Medicare expansion. Unless Lieberman makes one more grandstanding reversal. Or all of Barack Obama's courting of Snowe pays off somehow. Or Susan Collins has an epiphany. Or someone resigns abruptly and Santa is appointed to the Senate. Perhaps there's a glimmer of hope that a good CBO score would give one 'moderate' cover to reverse course on the Medicare expansion.

Personally, I'd rather the Democrats cave to Snowe's conditions than Lieberman's. With regard to Holy Joe, there's really nothing to say that Steve Benan and Ezra Klein haven't reiterated and documented about his intellectually dishonest, factually inaccurate, self-contradictory, self-serving, grandstanding opposition to the public option and his faux fiscal rectitude (see Benan here, Klein here and here ). This morning, Jonathan Cohn traces Lieberman's double-dealing and personal reversal specifically on the Medicare buy-in.

For the record, Jonathan Chait called Lieberman's brewing betrayal back on Oct. 27.

It seems as if we keep getting stuck in the same leverage loop on health care reform -- a handful of center-right Democrats and Republicans will kill health care reform if it includes a public option or Medicare expansion; progressive Democrats will kill health care reform if it doesn't include a public option or Medicare expansion.

To save this necessary legislation, the left is supposed to give in. Again. And why is it incumbent on liberals to concede? It's not because they're weak; it's because they care.

Can't liberals be just as stiff-necked as Lieberman? Sure, they could. But liberals members do have an incentive to compromise -- the tens of thousands of people who die every year for lack of health insurance. The leverage that Lieberman and other "centrists" have obtained on this issue (and on climate change) stems from a demonstrated willingness to embrace sociopathic indifference to the human cost of their actions.

It's the leverage trump-card dynamic that's been apparent throughout the debate -- the left doesn't want reform to fail; the right doesn't care. The left knows that if reform falls apart, thousands will die and millions will struggle. The right knows the same thing, but is indifferent to preventing such a scenario.

For the left, failure is not an option, because the human, political, economic, and fiscal consequences are too severe. For the right, failure is entirely acceptable, if not preferable. Both sides know what the other side is thinking.

The result is less of a negotiation and more of a hostage standoff, with Joe Lieberman playing the role of the proverbial gunman who isn't bluffing. If progressive Dems refuse to pay the ransom, Lieberman pulls the trigger and we get to spend the next decade arguing over who's to blame for what happened, while the systemic problems get worse, the human suffering expands, and the status quo bankrupts businesses, states, and the federal government.

There was a thought, early on in the process, that Lieberman was blowing a lot of smoke, but when push came to shove, he didn't want to be known forever as the man who killed health care reform. That thought was wrong.

Yglesias: Welcome to the Lieberman Administration

Looks like Joe Lieberman decided to try for the old double-cross and say he now opposes the Medicare expansion compromise he’d hinted he would support. Lieberman wants no public option, no trigger that might create a public option, and no expansion of existing programs as a substitute for a public option. And he doesn’t care about expressing that view in misleading ways, timed to cause embarrassment to the Democratic leadership. And, frankly, unlike some other troublesome Democratic Senators one can hardly be all that surprised that he’s making problems for the Obama administration’s #1 domestic priority. After all, Lieberman took the view that John McCain would be the better President.

That said, I agree with Chris Bowers that in a lot of ways the real story here is that the Senate leadership has, at every step of this process, underscored that a “reconciliation” path to a health care bill is off the table. That means Lieberman has unlimited control over what happens, and no incentive to compromise, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s being uncompromising. Can’t liberals be just as stiff-necked as Lieberman? Sure, they could. But liberals members do have an incentive to compromise—the tens of thousands of people who die every year for lack of health insurance. The leverage that Lieberman and other “centrists” have obtained on this issue (and on climate change) stems from a demonstrated willingness to embrace sociopathic indifference to the human cost of their actions.

If reconciliation could be revived, things might look different. There’s a good case for not doing this legislation through reconciliation. The product that emerged from the parliamentarian’s wringer could be sub-optimal in various ways. But the product that emerges from Lieberman’s wringer will also be sub-optimal. So given a viable threat of reconciliation, it seems to me that both sides would have some incentive to compromise. It would also be worth considering legislative ideas that can definitely pass procedural muster under reconciliation rules. For example, bill that cuts Medicare Advantage overpayments, raises some funds from taxing “cadillac” plans, uses the funds to finance Medicaid expansion and subsidized for Medicare “buy-ins” for people over 55, and reforms MedPAC would expand access to health care while “bending the curve” and unambiguously meets the procedural standard for reconciliation.

Steve Benen:

Reconciliation continues to bring its own complications, most notably months of additional delay (limiting Congress' ability to move on the rest of its agenda), the likelihood of having to break the bill apart, the unpredictable whims of the parliamentarian, the need to still get 60 votes on non-budget-related provisions, and the expiration date that comes with reconciliation (the notion of doing all of this again in 2015 is unappealing).

Which leaves the third alternative: pass the reform bill with no Medicare buy-in and no public option. Given how new the Medicare buy-in provision is -- it wasn't part of the equation until six days ago -- Lieberman's betrayal more or less brings us back to where we were two weeks ago, which is where we were two weeks before that, and two months before that.

The nation needs a health care bill. If it includes a public option, it can't overcome a Republican filibuster and the bill dies. If it doesn't include a public option, it can't overcome opposition from the left and the bill dies. Countless Americans will continue to suffer; costs will continue to soar; the public will perceive Democrats as too weak and incompetent to act on their own agenda; the party will lose a lot of seats in the midterms and possibly forfeit its majority; and President Obama will have suffered a devastating defeat that will severely limit his presidency going forward. No one will even try to fix the dysfunctional system again for decades, and the existing problems will only get worse.

So, what happens next? Your guess is as good as mine.

Kevin Drum: Harry and Joe

Harry Reid, October 27th:

"Joe Lieberman is the least of Harry Reid's problems. I don't have anyone that I've worked harder with, have more respect for, in the Senate than Joe Lieberman. As you know, he's my friend....Sen. Lieberman will let us get on the bill, and he'll be involved in the amendment process."

November 2nd:

Reid’s staff has told anxious liberals that Lieberman has given the Democratic leader assurances that he will not wreck the reform bill because of Reid’s decision to include the public option, according to two sources briefed on the issue.

December 8th:

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) [...] just gave his Democratic colleagues some breathing room. Lieberman said he's open to both the Medicare buy-in idea, and a separate proposal to extend the private system that insures federal employees to individuals and small businesses.


Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a face-to-face meeting on Sunday that he will vote against a health care bill that includes a public option or a provision that would expand Medicare, a Democratic Senate aide tells the Huffington Post.

I wonder how Reid's lifelong friendship with Lieberman is faring tonight?

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