Why Lieberman Hates the Public Option

Theories explaining the senator's threat to filibuster the health care bill if it includes a public option

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The public option was on a roll. Then, on Tuesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman threatened to filibuster the health care bill if it includes a public option, which he says would create "trouble for taxpayers, for the premium payers and for the national debt." Liberals are once again at war with Lieberman, who has been on the outs with Democrats since ditching the party and campaigning for John McCain. Left-wing pundits are laying on the derision, while everyone else asks: what is Lieberman after?

  • Power Grab  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder says Lieberman's maneuvering is a clear play for more influence over the final bill. "The final bill, post-conference, is going to look a bit different from the reconciled Senate bill," he explains. "Lieberman is giving himself the power to influence the final bill. I doubt that the Senate leadership is going to press him too hard right now, preferring to see if he can be accommodated in the final debate." At Gawker, Amrita Rajan agrees. "Joe Lieberman Would Like Some Attention Please," her headline says.
  • Attention Grab  At Slate, John Dickerson says Lieberman isn't trying to kill health care reform, just gain a little bit of the spotlight. "He wants to be the one courted. Think of him as the new Olympia Snowe. The bazaar is open in the Senate, and moderate senators who want to be wooed by the White House can do so by expressing their 'concerns.'" Dickerson says this is "exactly the kind of hardball politics that public option advocates have been asking Obama to use against moderate senators."
  • Resents Democrats  At The New Republic, Jonathan Chait says Lieberman is "furious with the party, resentful of President Obama (who beat his friend in 2008) and would relish a Democratic catastrophe...Lieberman won't join a futile filibuster, but if he has the chance to stick in the knife and kill health care reform, I think he'd probably jump at the chance." And he suggests Lieberman's true constituents may be quite wary of the public option. "Another reason for his position, of course, is that Connecticut is home to some huge insurance companies, who don't want any new competition."
  • In the Pocket of Insurance Companies  At The Daily Beast, Paul Begala goes for blood. "Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman is identified as (I-CT). But the 'I' does not stand for 'Independent.' It stands for 'Insurance Industry.'" Begala says Lieberman opposed reform in 1993 and 1994 for the same reasons he opposes it now: he receives significant support from the insurance companies. "Lieberman sided with insurance companies against sick people, and with insurance companies against citizens who want to sue to protect their rights in court. As The New York Times reported, 'Many of Mr. Lieberman's friends said he had no alternative but to take this position because it was the one favored by the insurance industry. The industry is important to Connecticut's economy and has generously donated to Mr. Lieberman's campaigns over the years.'" 
  • Bluffing  At The Washington Post, Ezra Klein doesn't believe Lieberman will filibuster. "Lieberman has not, traditionally, been conservative on health-care issues. He's a moralist and a hawk, but not a particular critic of the safety net." Klein says Lieberman's argument against the public option is "simply false," which leads him to believe that the Senator is bluffing. Still, Klein concedes, "it may be that his friction with the Democrats has changed him."
  • Simply Crazy  At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver says it's hard to make a deal with someone who won't adhere to reason. "While a Nelson or a Lincoln is liable to have a fairly rational set of concerns -- basically, they want to ensure they get re-elected -- it's tough to bargain with people like Lieberman who are a little crazy." He's worried Lieberman's move could "embolden" conservative Democrats. "In certain ways, he resembles nothing so much as one of those rogue, third-bit Middle Eastern dictators that he's so often carping about, capable of creating great anxiety with relatively little expenditure of resources, and taking equal pleasure in watching his friends and enemies sweat."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.