Joe Lieberman and the Opt-Out Revolution

Progressives rejoiced when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this week that the final Senate health care bill would include a public option. The announcement was a major victory for left-wing Democrats.

Better yet, it would be a public option without a trigger. Earlier proposals called for a triggered public option which would only take effect if private insurers failed to bring down costs on their own. Under the opt-out compromise, the public option would come on line automatically (albeit not until 2013), but states would later have the option of quitting.

The jubilation was short-lived. Alex Koppelman of Salon explains:

Progressives didn't even get 24 hours to celebrate the victory they won in getting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include a version of the public option in his health care reform bill. The celebration was cut off Tuesday afternoon with the news that Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., will vote with Senate Republicans to filibuster the legislation.

The Democrats have 60 Senate votes. If they all vote for cloture, a procedural motion to stop debate, the Republicans can't filibuster the bill. The Senators who vote for cloture can still vote against the bill. Reid's strategy for passing the bill was to get all Democrats to vote for cloture and let them vote their conscience on the actual bill. Even without Lieberman, Democrats have the votes to pass the bill by majority vote if they can avoid a filibuster.

Health care is the most important domestic policy initiative of the Obama administration. Would Joe Lieberman really torpedo reform? The Senate leadership thinks Reid is bluffing, according to Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly.

I understand the argument. Lieberman loves attention and power. By threatening to join the Republican filibuster, he gets both--Democrats have to scramble to make him happy, since there's no margin for error in putting together 60 votes. Lieberman gets to feel very important for the next several weeks by making this threat less than 24 hours after Harry Reid stated his intentions, but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to be known forever as The Senator Who Killed Health Care Reform.

I find it very easy to believe, however, that Lieberman is capable of doing just that. He left himself some wiggle room, but not when it comes to the public option--he's against it, no matter what, even with all of the compromises thrown in.

In other words, if this is all a ploy for leverage, why would Lieberman open by swearing that he won't support a bill with a public option? You'd think he'd just say he was keeping his options open and force Reid to make him a counter-offer. Reid has already decided that the public option is politically non-negotiable. He's afraid that the base won't come out for the 2012 elections if they don't get what they want. Benen speculates that Lieberman wants to be the Senator Who Killed Health Care because he wants to drum up massive Republican support for his 2012 reelection bid. On this theory, Lieberman is joining Rep. Joe "You Lie!" Wilson (R-SC) and Balloon Dad in the quest to make bank on ridiculous publicity stunts.

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) says that she will side with the Republicans to filibuster the bill "if she has to," as Evan McMorris-Santoro reports for TPM. Snowe was the only Republican to vote for the Finance Committee's health care bill.

Reid must walk a fine line. The administration really can't afford to alienate organized labor before the 2012 elections. Newly elected AFL-CIO President Ricahrd Trumka continues to push for his three core demands for health care reform: a public option, a mechanism to make employers pay their fair share, and no taxes on health care benefits. Last week, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee said that his union would oppose legislation that taxed benefits, but Trumka hasn't gone that far, as David Moberg reports at Working In These Times.

Finally, in other health-related news, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the division of the Labor Department that oversees workplace safety, has issued a sweeping new report condemning Nevada's state-level OSHA program. As I report for Working in These Times, the investigators found that NOSHA inspectors were being pressured by their superiors to write up employers on lesser charges, even when their repeat offenses killed workers.

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