Harkin gives Lieberman something to think about

Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin told reporters yesterday that he does not expect Senator Joe Lieberman to join a Republican filibuster to block the health care reform bill:

"As I said before, when it comes down to getting the 60 votes necessary to pass this bill, I do not believe that Joe Lieberman would want to be the one person who caucuses with the Democrats ... to bring this bill down. I don't think he wants to go down in history like that," Harkin said.

"He still wants to be a part of the Democratic Party although he is a registered independent. He wants to caucus with us and, of course, he enjoys his chairmanship of the [Homeland Security] committee because of the indulgence of the Democratic Caucus. So, I'm sure all of those things will cross his mind before the final vote."

In July, Harkin suggested a new rule for the Senate Democratic caucus:

"Every two years the caucus could have a secret ballot on whether a chairman should continue, yes or no [...] If the 'no's win, [the chairman's] out.

"I've heard it talked about before," he added.

At the time, Harkin's comments were widely viewed as a threat against Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. But Lieberman is a more likely target for demotion if he follows through with his threats. His alleged fears about health care reform adding to the deficit don't hold water, and his plans to campaign for some Republicans in 2010 won't help his cause with fellow Democrats.

Incidentally, The Hill noted this week,

Connecticut has the highest U.S. concentration of insurance jobs, with the industry accounting for about 64,000 jobs as of June 2009, according to the state's labor department. That's down 23 percent from the 83,000 jobs in 1990, although the state projects a slow growth of 4 percent through 2014. The state is home to 72 insurance headquarters, with three times the U.S. average of insurance jobs as a percent of total state employment.

Lieberman of course denies that he is running interference for the insurance industry based in his state. Des Moines, Iowa is also a major center for insurance companies, but that hasn't stopped Harkin from supporting a public health insurance option to compete with the private sector.

Speaking of party discipline, some House Democrats are threatening to use procedural maneuvers to block consideration of the health care reform bill unless leaders allow a vote on key amendments. Over at Congress Matters, David Waldman reminds us that it was Rahm Emanuel who set the precedent of releasing House Democrats to vote against leadership on procedure.

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Birds of a Feather

The more I am involved in local politics and neighborhood issues the more I am coming to realize that most people tend to seek out those who share their already held beliefs and look for reinforcement versus critical analysis. Have we become a country that is so entrenched in ideology that facts have become nonessential to rational discussion? My fear is that we have become a nation of intellectually lazy people who would rather have their news and facts spoon fed to them by the likes of Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. It appears that the more technology we incorporate into our society the less many of us read, study, and work to understand the nuisances of different issues. Instead of witnessing accurate and factual discussions we have become spectators to a drunken family brawl, where facts are replaced with family indignation.

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Reid was right to reject "the trigger". This is war.

Even if Harry Reid knew he didn't have 60 votes locked up, Reid made the right choice. Even if the White House worried that he didn't have 60 votes, he made the right call. The corporate centrists in our Party have too long grown accustomed to winning through refusal. Their refusal to even allow serious discussion of a Single Payer plan was just one recent example.

We are essentially in a state of war regarding health care. About as many Americans die annually as a consequence of poor or non existent health care insurance as died during the entire Viet Nam war. Our adversary, many would say enemy, is the private health care insurance cartel. They run the system that is responsible for those deaths. Not only do they run it, they profit off it, which makes them war profiteers in my book.

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Weekly Pulse: Joe Lieberman and the Opt-Out Revolution

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

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.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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Lieberman is All Bark and No Bite

Earlier this week, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman did his darndest to get headlines by hinting at opposition to healthcare reform. Turns out -- and this is little surprise -- Lieberman was just blowing hot air.

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., whose vote could be crucial to breaking an expected GOP filibuster on health care legislation, Thursday said he would consider voting to move the bill forward, even if he ultimately casts his ballot against the reform package.

It was pretty clear that what Lieberman was looking for was attention rather than any meaningful changes to healthcare reform legislation. At this point, Lieberman doesn't have much leverage over his Democratic colleagues, whose support he relies upon (along with that of the President) to maintain his chairmanship and seniority; were he to actually to be the one member of the Senate Democratic caucus to vote to sink healthcare reform, it's difficult to fathom him not being stripped of his power, so he does not represent nearly as credible of a threat as he would have us believe. As a result, Lieberman has had to walk back his weak threat, conceding that he could very well vote for cloture even if he votes against the ultimate bill -- a position that would likely be palatable to (even if not loved by) those Democrats now allowing him the privileges of seniority.

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