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Oct. 27 2009 - 2:18 pm | 5 views | 1 recommendation | 2 comments

Harry Reid has to double down on Lieberman filibuster threat

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 18:  Sen. Joe Lieberman ...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

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.

via Lieberman says he’ll filibuster Reid plan – Manu Raju – POLITICO.com.

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    Michael, my hat is off to you for referencing our earlier discussion on this. That is a rare and classy thing in this business.

    I would point out that Lieberman was savaged by the entire Democrat establishment in his last reelection campaign. They threw everything at him and he thumped Ned Lamont and the also-ran Republican. He has earned the right, and should be expected to, break with the party on the really tough issues. he is, after all an independent (i.e. you never know what the hell they are going to do).

    Now the folks on the left can feel a little of our pain when the media fawns over guys like McCain putting the screws to his own party and base.

    They suck the most when they are at their mavericky best.

    • collapse expand

      Thanks Bill, the old debater in me thinks it’s important to be fair.

      Breaking with your party on the issues is one thing; breaking with your party on a procedural move like the filibuster is another thing. I think that Senator Lieberman certainly earned the right to campaign for his long time friend Senator McCain, keeping it positive and framing his stump speeches in a manner that focused on which candidate would be better for America. On balance, he did that honorably, and no one in the Senate held it against him.

      But Lieberman can caucus with whomever he wants; if his chairmanship is not contingent on backing his party in a procedural matter that isn’t focused on the merits of an up or down vote on a legislation, Harry Reid got a bad deal.

      And anyways, as far as this maverick stuff goes – I think on balance, conservatives tend to be a lot happier with the results of Democrats breaking away than liberals are with Republicans jumping the fence. Wouldn’t you agree? Look at how much you’re hailing Lieberman’s mavericky-ness in contrast to the extent to which progressives welcome Olympia Snowe.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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