No Way, No How, to the Public Option

The Connecticut senator, free of partisan loyalties, has a pivotal role in the health-care debate.

The Wall Street Journal
December 5, 2009

…Ever since his bruising 2006 re-election, in which he quit the Democratic Party to run as an independent, Mr. Lieberman has been a man unleashed. He’s caucused with Democrats yet campaigned for John McCain. He’s enthusiastically supporting President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan surge and just as spiritedly criticizing his decision to try 9/11 terrorists in U.S. courts. He’s joined Democrats to reform health care, even as he’s promised to torpedo their government-run insurance option…

…And he can’t be ignored: He’s crucial to mustering the 60 votes necessary to overcome Republican filibusters. Mr. Lieberman says he was “surprised” to have his influence, but he isn’t afraid to use it. “I always felt I was an independent-minded person . . . but there is no question that having been re-elected as an ‘independent’ does give me a feeling of liberation . . . I don’t feel like I have to view everything through the prism of partisanship.”…

Back in October, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid snipped that Mr. Lieberman was “the least of” his health care “problems.” That’s no longer true, if it ever was. He has the power to strip a public option out of the Senate health-care bill, and even demand a more moderate rewrite. Mr. Lieberman himself puts the odds of a bill getting through at “greater than 50-50” but bluntly warns: “It won’t be what Senator Reid put in.”

“They are going to have to drop some things . . . the obvious being the public option”—a controversial, government-run insurance program that Mr. Lieberman adamantly opposes on philosophical and economic grounds. Unlike some Democrats who have criticized it but remained open to negotiation, he says he is not bluffing.

“I’m being more stubborn and certain about this . . . I think it’s such a significant step for the country to create another entitlement program and to have the government going into a business, I feel like I’ve got to say no.”

When Mr. Lieberman says no public option, he means no public option—not an “opt-in” or an “opt out” or a “trigger” (a public option only comes into effect if private insurers fail to spread enough coverage). “We are at the point now where this has become the classic legislative process of trying to get a fig leaf that everyone can hide behind. And I don’t want to do that.”

Why is he adamant? Mr. Lieberman says that while he is not “a conspiratorial person,” he believes the public option is intended as a way for the government to take over health care. “I’ve been working for health-care reform in different ways since I arrived here,” he says. “It was always about how do we make the system more efficient and less costly, and how do we expand coverage to people who can’t afford it, and how do we adopt some consumer protections from the insurance companies . . . So where did this public option come from?” It was barely a blip, he says, in last year’s presidential campaign.

“I started to ask some of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus, privately, and two of them said “some in our caucus, and some outside in interest groups, after the president won such a great victory and there were more Democrats in the Senate and the House, said this is the moment to go for single payer.'” …

…Mr. Lieberman dismisses Democratic arguments that it is necessary to keep insurers honest. “Sometimes the private sector does things that are wrong, and when they do, you regulate—sometimes you litigate,” he says. “But never in the history of America . . . have we tried to keep one industry honest by having government go into that business to compete with the industry.”…

The entire article is at WSJ.

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