Lieberman defends self as Democrats howl over health care

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 15, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Liberals are furious at Joe Lieberman, charging he had a huge role in scuttling major parts of the public health care option they so badly want — and Lieberman tried hard Tuesday to clarify his views.

The Connecticut senator, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, first angered liberals when he said he could not back health care legislation with a public option, or government-run plan.

Then he stoked the fire again Sunday, saying he could not support expanding Medicare to 55 to 64 year olds, an idea that Democratic leaders were seriously considering.

After a closed-door Senate Democratic meeting Monday night, that plan appeared to be all but dead, and Lieberman said he was “encouraged” by new deevelopments.

Liberals howled Tuesday, citing a September interview with the Connecticut Post where he talks about “to basically expand the existing successful public health insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid.”

“I was very focused on a group post-50, maybe post more like 55, people who have retired early or unfortunately who have been laid off early who lose their health insurance and are too young to qualify for Medicare,” Lieberman said. “What I was proposing was to have an option to buy into Medicare early,” to allow insurance program…

But Sunday, he told CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “You’ve got to take out the Medicare buy-in” to get the bill passed.

He was not the only senator expressing reservations — on the same program, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., was skeptical.

But it was Lieberman, long a target of liberals because of his fervent support of the Iraq war and Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential candidacy, who took the public heat.

“Last year, this nation went to the polls and elected Barack Obama -- not Joe Lieberman -- to solve our health care crisis,” said Justin Ruben, Executive Director of MoveOn.org. “It is absolutely absurd that after months of work, President Obama and the Democrats are letting one Senator, Joe Lieberman, gut the health care bill.”

Lieberman responded Tuesday, saying “there has been some misunderstanding about my past position on the Medicare buy-in proposal,” explaining that he has “long been concerned about making health care more accessible and affordable.”

He recalled how the buy-in idea was part of the platform he endorsed as the Democrats’ 2000 vice presidential candidate.

But at that time, Lieberman said Tuesday, “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.”

He said his comments in September “were related to past ideas for health care reform I have considered or supported.”

Such comments, he said, “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.”

Lieberman’s Senate colleagues pointed out that he hardly has the power to “gut” the health care bill.

“I never felt any one item was the be-all, end-all in this bill,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “We have several pivotal senators, not just one.”

ON THE WEB:

Sen. Lieberman on 'Face the Nation”

Sen. Lieberman on Medicare buy-in

Congressional Budget Office analysis of Senate Democrats’ health care bill

Text of Senate Democratic health care bill Congressional Budget Office analysis of House health bill Sen. Lieberman’s health care statement

Sen. Bernard Sanders on health care

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