Harry Reid has to double down on Lieberman filibuster threat
The big news of the day is that Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 who became a party black sheep after losing his 2006 Senate primary in Connecticut, is promising to support a Republican filibuster of the Senate health care bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on Monday. Color me surprised – I have in the past stated that Lieberman would do no such thing, and it looks like I underestimated the size of his ego:
Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats and is positioning himself as a fiscal hawk on the issue, said he opposes any health care bill that includes a government-run insurance program — even if it includes a provision allowing states to opt out of the program, as Reid’s has said the Senate bill will.
“We’re trying to do too much at once,” Lieberman said. “To put this government-created insurance company on top of everything else is just asking for trouble for the taxpayers, for the premium payers and for the national debt. I don’t think we need it now.”
Lieberman did say he’s “strongly inclined” to vote to proceed to the debate, but that he’ll ultimately vote to block a floor vote on the bill if it isn’t changed first.
“I’ve told Sen. Reid that if the bill stays as it is now I will vote against cloture,” he said.
It remains to be seen how far Lieberman will go with this statement. The man is more slippery than an eel in the Connecticut River, and this could be more brinksmanship. See AP’s take on the story which is less dour, and in which Lieberman says he could support public options set up by the states.
But whatever he does eventually, in the short term, this is bad news for Harry Reid.
At the beginning of the year, I could see the wisdom of keeping Joe Lieberman in the Democrats’ fold. Sure, he campaigned against President Obama and for his long time friend John McCain. But keeping Lieberman in the Democratic caucus as an ‘Independent Democrat’ allowed Obama to keep up the post-partisan narrative on which he ran for office.
Extending his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also gave the Senate Democratic leadership some leverage. It allowed Reid and company to say, “If you want to have a major impact on significant legislation, if you want to be more than a backbencher in this body, you’ll be with us when it counts.”
And it looks like Lieberman may have chosen to not stand with Senate Democrats when it counts. Plenty in the Democratic caucus have misgivings about the legislation on health care reform that Lieberman will take up. But whether progressive or fiscally conservative, none of those Democrats have pledged to allow the filibuster of their own party’s bill. The junior senator of Connecticut has done just that.
This is a real test of Harry Reid’s leadership in the Senate. Joe Lieberman is saying that he prefers the role of dealbreaker to Democrat. If the majority leader is unwilling to say that the perks and powers of a major committee chairmanship come with a price of loyalty at key moments, he’s proving that he cannot keep his caucus in line, and he isn’t fit to lead the Democratic majority in the Senate. The man from Nevada needs to bark loudly, and there better be some major bite behind it.