Should White House Bow to Lieberman on Health Care?

The Senate may have to give up the public option and Medicare buy-in to pass legislation

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The White House is pressuring Senate Democrats to pass health care reform even it means cutting the public option and the Medicare buy-in, according to reports. The concessions would drop two of the bill's largest and most coveted provisions to secure the votes of only one or two senators: Joe Lieberman and, possibly, Olympia Snowe. Lieberman has tortured Democrats by hinting at and then revoking his support. Vice President Joe Biden insists Lieberman will take a deal. How seriously should the White House take his latest demands? Just as importantly, what's the alternative if they don't?

  • Necessary To Pass The Washington Post's Ezra Klein mourns, "The public option died tonight. So, it seems, did its eager successor, the Medicare buy-in." He writes, "The calculation, in the end, was pretty simple. The White House wants the Senate done with health-care legislation by Christmas. The argument is that big bills rarely fail in a dramatic vote. They bleed to death slowly, wasting away amid a procession of delays and procedural setbacks. The longer a health-care reform bill takes, the less likely it is to pass." Senate Democrats had no choice but to remove "not only the public option, but anything that looked even remotely like it."
  • Public Option Not White House Priority The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn writes that they're more worried about passing the bill and about getting to jobs. "While Obama has consistently supported the idea in principle, at times touting it when he could easily have buried it, he's also made clear that he doesn't see it as the centerpiece of reform. It has not, by any reckoning, been a major focus of his administration's lobbying of Capitol Hill," he writes. "Negotiating a new deal would mean adding days, at least, to the process. Every extra day the health care debate continues is an day spent wrangling with the Liebermans of the world, rather than talking about, say, jobs. That's probably not good for health care reform or the administration's broader agenda.
  • 'Last Chance' For Reform Politico's Mike Allen says that's the White House's thinking. "When President Barack Obama meets with Senate Democrats at the White House today, look for him to make the case that this is the LAST CHANCE FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM. Sen. Lieberman's rejection of the Dem leadership's compromise, which had put the Senate on track to pass reform by Christmas, makes it possible (though still unlikely) that the measure will collapse. The West Wing believes that it is still on track to pass, but that there remains a chance it doesn't. So with the days ticking away, Obama will spell out the stakes in increasingly apocalyptic terms."

  • Try Again Next Year, Dems National Review's Rich Lowry insists that Democrats can find long-term victory by admitting short-term defeat. "If the health-care bill is necessary and wise, it will withstand a temporary defeat. Democrats could campaign on it around the country next year. They could rebuild public support, turning around the polls. They could enhance their majority in the House and the Senate, bringing more Democrats to Washington determined to pass it. That's how you usually pass historic legislation in a system naturally inclined to the status quo."

Greenwald: "If the WH wasn't happy with the HCR outcome, how come they never tried things like this to stop/change it?"
Yglesias: "That article is about Lynn Woolsey's secondhand account of an event the WH says didn't happen."
Greenwald: "Woolsey is credible; the WH denies a lot of things; either way, why didn't the WH try to pressure 'obstructionist' Senators?"
Yglesias: "Why would Lieberman give in to WH pressure?"
Greenwald: "Lieberman wants his Chair; [Sen. Blanche] Lincoln wants WH and DNC support; the WH has lots of pressure points - why didn't they try?"
Wheeler: "Because [Chief of Staff] Rahm [Emanuel] is an incompetent egomaniac?"
Greenwald: "The WH/Rahm know how to pressure members when they care about something - doesn't mean they're omnipotent, but they can try"
Wheeler: "Agree. But they have a f'ed up understanding of what is possible and how to get there."
Yglesias: "I don't think the facts very clear you have a narrative of WH betrayal you're squeezing everything into."
Yglesias: "Allright -- the Internet has spoken. Lieberman, Nelson, Lincoln, etc. have no agency. Everything is secretly orchestrated by Rahm."
Wheeler: "No, the question is whether and how Rahm & O assert their own agency"
Greenwald: "Total distortion. There is PRESSURE/influence the WH can apply - it might work and it might not. They didn't try."
Yglesias: "If WH just wanted to 'not try' they could have surrended months ago. What's been going on if not trying?"
Wheeler: "Question is do you cede the field to allow Lieberman et al to dictate outcomes? That's what Rahm chose to do."
Yglesias: "If progressives want more progressive legislation we need to more ability to pressure senators directly, not more whining about Obama."
Wheeler: "OUR source of leverage over Lieberman & Nelson is through leaders of our caucus: his Chair is one of biggest levers we have. But Obama and Rahm and Reid have chosen not to use that lever."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.