Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Lieberman Should Get Credit for Role Passing Health BillDec. 23, 2009
By Morton M. Kondracke
Roll Call Executive Editor
Instead of vilifying Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Democrats ought to be praising him for saving health care legislation from defeat. And liberal criticism of the Senate’s health care 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 Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — and the late intervention of a third, Lieberman.
The tireless Reid is the constant target of Republican gibes and may well lose his re-election race in Nevada next year. Baucus is privately sneered at by Democratic colleagues for his prickliness and for cooperating too much with Republicans.
But the venom heaped on Lieberman for pulling the government-run “public option” insurance plan and Medicare for 55- to 64-year-olds out of the Senate health care reform bill has been withering.
His home-state colleague, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D), suggested that Connecticut’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 percent to 40 percent 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 Governmental 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 Reid 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 Democratic 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 practicing.
Last week, 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 what 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.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
by Tunku Varadarajan
December 16, 2009
The Connecticut senator has been strafed by the blogosphere for his health-care moves. Tunku Varadarajan on how Lieberman actually saved Obamacare.
Once upon a time in a land of obscene wealth, where—shocking to behold—dwelt millions of uninsured men, women and angelic children, there lived an ornery old man, a slippery turncoat, a vile apostate, an immoral pawn of the insurance industry, called Joseph I. Lieberman. He hated health-care reform so much—my, how he hated it!—that each time a compromise was reached that would allow the passage of a momentous, mind-blowingly cool health-care bill, he stomped his foot like some squalid little Rumpelstiltskin and said "NO!"
For his role in the frustration of Obamacare, this Lieberman became the object of high-octane contempt. One after another, apoplectic members of the Health Care Liberation Front stepped forward to denounce him. Ezra Klein, a precocious and excitable blogger, wrote this of Lieberman: "[He] seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score." Our own Lee Siegel, of The Daily Beast, called on Lieberman to "start acting Jewish", making the theologically audacious argument that no true Jew could possibly oppose health-care reform.
And there were others who came forth with their anathema. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a blogger at The Atlantic, likened Lieberman to "a divorced Dad refusing to pay for private school, in part, because it might please his ex-wife." In The New York Times, the peerlessly empathetic Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed piece about a man who might die without adequate health care and tied Lieberman, by implication, to a possible thwarting of a health-care bill that would save this man's life. And today, in an editorial, the Times pilloried him as "The Million-Dollar Man", asserting that the "hypocritical" Lieberman was only doing the bidding of an insurance industry to which he was beholden—having taken "more than $1 million from the industry over his Senate career." (Here, I can't resist two questions: Why are the editorials of the Times, the world's most influential newspaper, always picayune, never magisterial? And how much money has Harry Reid taken from trial lawyers over the course of his Senate career? Click here.
In light of all this hot air and hysteria, I write today in defense of Joe Lieberman. Some readers of the Beast who also read The Wall Street Journal may recall that I have not always written kindly of the man. In fact, I once wrote of him most unkindly, in a piece titled "I Can't Stand Lieberman." But that was in the year 2000; times, and Lieberman himself, have changed. And so has my opinion. Witness his statement yesterday, in the face of charges that he had flip-flopped on the Medicare buy-in: “the party platform was to suggest one way to reform health care was to allow 55 to 65 year olds to buy into Medicare. That's a very stressed age group when you don't have insurance. But a lot of things have changed in nine years.” The U.S. government, he said, was then running a surplus, not a deficit, and Medicare wasn't on the verge of imminent bankruptcy. Lieberman evolves: the very definition of intelligent life on the planet.
First, a little recap: Lieberman was jettisoned by the liberal establishment in favor of Ned Lamont in 2006 because he wouldn't renounce a war that most of them had also voted for, even though he's mostly a conventional Democrat on domestic and economic issues. Driven by the juice-box blogosphere, the establishment pursued a vendetta against him—even after he won reelection on his own heterodox platform—because he didn't suddenly adopt their national-security views. And they continued the vendetta right until the moment when—as it turned out—they needed his vote for the vast, permanent, and destructive entitlement expansion that is health-care reform. Uh-oh.
Payback is a bitch, and Lieberman is obviously enjoying a small measure of revenge. How could he not?
Why is Lieberman doing this? From his perspective as a senator from Connecticut, Lieberman has to know that the current health-care legislation does not create a viable environment for any of the major health-care carriers within his state. Competition by your regulator does not yield competition: It yields regulation, and results in the elimination of the private parties who do not get the subsidy from the state, and who suffer from its restrictions. But more to the point, Lieberman has only insisted on stripping out the most radical elements from a deeply radical bill, never challenging its fundamental policy priorities. From that Democratic perspective, I think Lieberman actually saved Obamacare at its moment of greatest weakness. If he hadn't, by his intransigence, given a heat shield to the equally nervous Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Evan Bayh, Jim Webb, and Ben Nelson—and the leadership hadn't acceded to his demands, giving Obamacare a "moderate" gloss—one would have seen an exodus of crucial votes this week, instead of the fait accompli that Obamacare has now become.
There’s a bigger, nonconformist point here as well. Why shouldn’t one senator block the bill, or seek to change it? Why is that in any way an outrage? Lieberman has become the embodiment of the moral middle—socially liberal and fiscally conservative—and I, for one, accept his word that he is acting in accord with his political conscience in refusing to join the health-care herd.
That said, and regardless of what one thinks of the motives behind his actions, Lieberman has performed a great public service by exposing the zealous, ugly side of the left, which can't believe that someone could oppose this project without nefarious motives. So a pack has formed around Lieberman. Elias Canetti, in his Crowds and Power, called it a "hunting pack," one formed "wherever the object of the pack is an animal… too dangerous to be captured by one man alone." The hunting pack "moves with all its force toward a living object which it wants to kill in order subsequently to incorporate it."
The pack is hunting Joe Lieberman. Decent Americans should stand by their man.
Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School.
In praise of Joe Lieberman
A Democrat and former colleague rises to defend the Connecticut senator
By Bob Kerrey
New York Daily News
Thursday, December 17th 2009
The knives are out - yet again - for Joe Lieberman.
By declaring his intention to filibuster any health care bill that includes an expansion of Medicare, the Democrat-turned-Independent U.S. senator from Connecticut has provoked an angry backlash from liberals in his former party.
Some, like ex-Democratic chairman Howard Dean, have called on Democrats to kill the bill, go back to a more liberal reform plan, and push that through with 50 votes if necessary. Some lawmakers in Lieberman's home state have even suggested that he be recalled from office.
My own view is that Lieberman should be thanked by Democrats. Because on both the merits and the politics, Lieberman is leading his former party - and the Congress as a whole - in precisely the right direction.
It is true, Lieberman has reversed himself on the value of a Medicare buy-in for 55- to 64-year-old Americans. Until recently, he supported the idea. Now, his opposition - coming on the heels of a pledge to filibuster any bill including the public option - creates the appearance that he's moving the goalposts or trying to sink the chances for reform altogether.
But look closer and you'll see the wisdom in his evolution.
Lieberman is saving the Democratic majority from their apparent willingness to expand Medicare just as the demographic tsunami of 77 million baby boomers begins to cash in their $11 trillion claim on the program.
Medicare is already our largest and most expensive federal entitlement. It is already growing at more than $50 billion a year. It doesn't need to get bigger - not now, as deficits, debt and borrowing costs rise by the day.
Yet the Senate provision to which Lieberman objects would expand Medicare by decreasing the age of eligibility and adding a new non-health care payment for long-term care. Deceptively, this is actually scored by the Congressional Budget Office as a $70 billion savings - because premium inflows would exceed benefits for the first 10 years. But that state of affairs won't last; both new entitlements are likely to prove pricey to taxpayers over time.
At the same time, by moving the bill toward a consensus product, Lieberman is putting the Republican minority on the spot - giving moderates the chance to prove they truly care about the moral tragedy of tens of millions of Americans who cannot afford health insurance.
Consider: Even without the public option or the Medicare buy-in, if this bill is passed and signed into law, 94% of all Americans will have health insurance. There will be tighter controls on Medicare spending with greater emphasis on quality outcomes and preventive care. There will be greater opportunities for small businesses to provide meaningful insurance coverage for their employees.
If the GOP says "no" to all that, they will pay a price at the polls.
I am very sympathetic to every member of Congress. Health care is the most challenging of issues. It is large. It is complicated. It is emotional.
All of us who have spent any time with the issue have strong opinions on what needs to be done. I'd prefer to break the link with employment. I'd prefer creating a national health care system that uses the private sector to make payments. I'd prefer a system that is transparent to consumers on the question of cost.
But I'm fully aware that my preferences amount to a political fantasy. So, my challenge - and the challenge for all of us with strong views on the issue - is to get over our fantasies and support something that will make things better rather than worse.
Bob Kerrey, president of the New School, was a Democratic U.S. senator from Nebraska from 1989-2001.
By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, December 16, 2009; A19
To a self-described "old feminist" such as Hadassah Lieberman, the recent blog-inspired attack against her -- all related to husband Joe Lieberman's obstruction of the Democrats' health-care agenda -- has been a surreal mix of "McCarthyism" and a "snowball fight on the playground."
Actually, ambush is a better word.
Blogger Jane Hamsher, a movie producer ("Natural Born Killers") and political activist, went after Mrs. Lieberman as Sen. Lieberman was refusing to vote for a health-care reform bill that included expanding Medicare to people as young as 55. Hamsher claimed that because Mrs. Lieberman was a lobbyist and had worked for the pharmaceutical industry, she should be fired from her position as global ambassador for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity.
Hamsher says that when people run for the cure, or donate to Komen, they don't expect their money to go to someone who helps funnel funds to pharmaceutical companies that are also fighting health-care reform.
If "Huh?" is trying to escape your lips, don't fight it. Meanwhile, let's pause for a few facts, easily accessible thanks to that techno-geezer, Alexander Graham Bell:
Hadassah Lieberman is not and has never been a lobbyist. She did work for some pharmaceutical companies -- Hoffman-La Roche in New York in the 1970s before she married Lieberman, and Pfizer, also in New York, from 1982 to 1985. Later, from 1993 to 1997, she worked for Apco, a global public relations firm that represents corporations, including several drug companies.
More facts: Mrs. Lieberman is not paid in her role as global ambassador for Komen, though she does get a check for consulting work she performs under a separate agreement. According to Komen spokeswoman Pamela Stevens, Komen has never funneled money to pharmaceutical companies. Susan G. Komen grants totaling $450 million have gone to research institutions in the United States and abroad. A separate $900 million has gone to programs in communities worldwide for education, screening and treatment. An additional $50 million will go to research in the coming year.
So, why again should Hadassah Lieberman be fired?
Because Jane Hamsher says so.
Hamsher, who is a cancer survivor, as are other members of her family, apparently has taken her personal suffering and made it personal with Hadassah Lieberman. On her blog, Firedoglake, she launched a campaign for readers to pressure the Komen organization to oust Lieberman. She is also urging Komen-friendly celebrities such as Christie Brinkley and Ellen DeGeneres to do the same.
Whether one agrees with Sen. Lieberman's opposition to certain elements of the Senate health-care bill is a matter of legitimate debate. Democrats are understandably furious with the Senator Formerly Known as a Democrat, now an independent and sometimes a Republican sympathizer. Thanks largely to Lieberman, progressives have had to watch as their single-payer dream became a public option and, now, something closer to a nightmare.
But again, what has any of this to do with his wife's work for a nonprofit organization that has raised breast cancer awareness and saved countless lives around the world? There is no conflict of interest unless you think that a wife should stay home and be her husband's silent partner.
In that light, the attack on Hadassah Lieberman has been fantastically anti-feminist. In what American century is a wife's job in jeopardy because of her husband's politics?
"It's been surprising to me as an old feminist to watch this kind of cheap attack," Mrs. Lieberman told me. "The reality of many women is that many of us have careers and ideas and thoughts that preceded our marriages."
Hamsher's campaign thus far has had little effect except to cause alarm among those concerned with truth's slow pace in the race against falsehood. A few e-mails from blog readers have trickled in to the Komen organization, but there's been no word from celebrities, says Stevens.
Ultimately, this may prove much ado about nada. But there is a larger issue embedded herein concerning the damaging effects of viral warfare on individual reputations, not to mention democracy.
Hadassah Lieberman is but the most recent victim of new media that owe no allegiance to facts or to the goal of an informed citizenry. In such an environment, anyone's reputation is subject to the whim of any other person armed with an agenda and a random selection of disputable facts, and unencumbered by standards.
Or, as in this case, anyone unconstrained by the modern notion that women are free to think and act independently of their husbands.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Lieberman Statement on Health Care NegotiationsWASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) issued the following statement regarding the latest in Senate health care reform negotiations:
"I am encouraged that progress has been made toward passing health care reform legislation in the Senate in the very near future. As I have said all along, health care legislation must expand coverage, contain costs, reform the way health care is delivered, and impose consumer protection regulations on the health insurance industry. While I objected to some provisions that I believed would unnecessarily add to the national debt, raise taxes, or endanger the fiscal solvency of the Medicare program, there is much that is needed and worthy in the core bill that I support.
"There has been some misunderstanding about my past position on the Medicare buy-in proposal, which I would like to clarify. I have long been concerned about making health care more accessible and affordable. One idea that has been discussed for years is expanding Medicare to people younger than 65. For example, the Medicare buy-in proposal was part of the Gore/Lieberman platform in 2000, but in 2000 our nation's budget was balanced, debt levels were less than half current levels, Medicare was not on the verge of insolvency, and there was no viable proposal like the one we are debating today to provide affordable coverage to more than 30 million Americans who currently lack health insurance, including people 55 to 65.
"My comments reported by the Connecticut Post in September were related to past ideas for health care reform I have considered or supported, and were made before we had a bill for consideration on the Senate floor that contains extensive health insurance reforms, including limiting how much more insurance companies could charge individuals based on age and providing subsidies that would specifically help people between the ages of 55 and 65 to afford health insurance.
"Any inclusion of a Medicare buy-in for that same age group would be duplicative of what is already in the bill, would put the government on the hook for billions of additional dollars that are not paid for, and would potentially threaten the solvency of Medicare, which is already in a perilous state. I also had concerns that this provision would result in cost-shifting that would drive up premiums for the 180 million Americans who now have insurance.
"The process to reach agreement on a bill has often been difficult, but I sense we are now taking significant steps forward to obtain 60 votes on the Senate floor. I look forward to passing a bill that will give the American people genuine health care reform without impeding our recovery from the current recession or adding to our exploding national debt."