Lieberman should get credit for role in reform
Instead of vilifying Sen. Joe Lieberman, Democrats should be praising him for saving health care legislation from defeat.
And liberal criticism of the Senate's health bill as some sort of gift to the health-insurance industry, unworthy of passage, is just laughable.
Whether health care reform proves to be a political boon or blight for Democrats in 2010 is open to question, but the fact is that they are nearing a historic accomplishment -- insurance coverage for almost 30 million Americans and a ban on denial of coverage because someone is sick.
Democrats could have written far, far better bills than either the House or Senate versions, but the Senate version required herculean efforts on the part of two of the least-loved members of the Senate -- Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. -- and the late intervention of a third, Lieberman.
The tireless Reid is the constant target of Republican jibes and may well lose his re-election race in Nevada. Baucus is privately sneered at by Democratic colleagues for his prickliness and for co-operating too much with Republicans.
But the venom heaped on Lieberman for pulling the government-run "public option" insurance plan and Medicare for people 55 to 64 years old out of the Senate health reform bill has been withering.
His colleague, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., suggested that the state's voters recall him. MoveOn.org posted a video making him out to be a sock puppet of the insurance industry.
Even more vituperatively, WashingtonPost.com economics blogger Ezra Klein opined, "he seems to be willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score."
The "old score," of course, is Lieberman's defeat in his Democratic re-election primary in 2006 by liberal Ned Lamont over his support for the Iraq war. Lieberman beat Lamont 50-40 in the general election running as an independent.
It was Lieberman's liberation, freeing him up to do politically as he pleases, including supporting his friend, Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) for president in 2008.
He managed to hold on to his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee because Democrats need him to be their 60th vote to break Republican filibusters, but he's otherwise a pariah in his party.
Somehow, liberals give a pass to Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who votes more like a Republican than Lieberman and held out on health care even longer -- possibly because of the 2006 and 2008 history, and possibly because liberals figure Nebraska is culturally "out there" and demands tolerance.
But the fact is, Lieberman's success in inducing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. D-Nev., to drop the public option and Medicare buy-in was a gift to Democrats.
Lieberman provided cover for four or five other moderate Democrats who might well have been "No" votes and sent the Senate bill down to defeat.
They include Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Nelson and Jim Webb (Va.). Some others, too, may have sighed in relief when the deed was done.
This was attested to by moderate Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who said, "In a curious way, (Lieberman's move) may make it more possible to get something done ... He wasn't the only one with these concerns. It's very clear -- he vocalized concerns many were having."
In fact, 10 senators wrote a letter to Reid opposing the Medicare buy-in, including liberals Russ Feingold (Wis.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Al Franken (Minn.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).
Both the public option and the Medicare buy-in were devices invented by liberals to kill off the private health insurance industry in America and create a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system.
It's sometimes called "Medicare for all," and liberals defend it in spite of the fact that the Medicare system is going broke and, if all hospitals and doctors were paid Medicare reimbursement rates, many hospitals would go broke and many doctors would quit.
Recently, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean declared that if he were a senator, he'd vote against the Reid bill because it "expands private insurers' monopoly over health care" and therefore "is not real health reform."
The bill, without a public option, also has been branded "a wet sloppy kiss to the insurance industry."
Tell that to the insurance lobby, America's Health Insurance Plans, which has been objecting vociferously that the Senate bill -- and the House version, more so -- will result in higher premiums for everyone who buys insurance.
AHIP also has been e-mailing polls showing that the bill is unpopular with American voters. That's not the behavior of someone getting a "wet, sloppy kiss."
Americans would be far better off if the Senate had adopted legislation proposed by Sens. Wyden and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, requiring all Americans to have insurance and giving them a tax credit to buy it in the private market.
Regulated private competition would lower costs, as has been proved by the Medicare Part D prescription drug program.
Theoretically, a House-Senate conference committee could produce a final bill that's better than either chamber has passed. But that's highly unlikely.
Liberals dominate in the House, and if they had their way, the bill would head America toward Canada.
So, the final bill has to be modeled on the Senate bill because, if it's not, Lieberman will stand against it. He's doing his old party a big favor.
Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.