For progressives, with his latest Hamleting on health care reform, Sen. Joe Lieberman has officially transitioned from his status as the Senate's Lucy-Pulling-The-Ball-Away to a guy who, in the words of CAP's Matthew Yglesias, demonstrates "sociopathic indifference to the human cost" of his actions. That's one way of putting it.

What Lieberman is actually trying to do -- and surely, the Democratic leadership has discovered this by now -- is to kill or weaken the bill.

Since, really, 2006, Lieberman has felt alienated from his caucus, and he's grown more conservative. He does not care about liberals, who tried to drum him out of office in 2006; he seems to enjoy poking them in the eye. He's not likely to run for office again, so he's not terribly worried about loud protests. His contempt for liberals coincides with his new conservative friends, aides, colleagues, donors. (He was never a fiscal liberal to begin with, but his fiscal conservatism seems to have ripened lately.)

Lieberman blessed the Gang of Ten deal privately before those talks were completed, then reversed himself as soon as it became evident that the left saw a silver lining in the consolation prize of a Medicare buy-in proposal.


There is the explanation that Lieberman is an unusually talented egoist; certainly obstreperous for the sake of seeming obstreperous. But if this impulse of Lieberman's governed his policy decisions, then he would certainly want to be seen as health care's savior, and not be content with being seen as its destroyer. Lieberman has designed his public campaign as a way to streeeetch out the debate as much as possible, and just as Democrats seem to be on the verge of reaching him, like a quantum particle, he appears instantly at a completely different location, rendering useless at least a week of hard soldering by the Democrats.

To many of Lieberman's colleagues, it's been hard for them to accept that his motives were different than those he stated in public, but there have apparently been a number of private assurances given -- and broken -- by the Connecticut senator in recent weeks -- and a growing recognition that, of all the wavering "moderate" Democrats -- Bill Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landreiu -- Lieberman is the least likely to negotiate to a compromise.

Here is the reality, though: the Democrats need 60 votes. They're not going to pass the insurance reforms through reconciliation. (Some blame the White House for insisting that Democrats eschew the reconciliation option.)

That means that Ben Nelson has to be accommodated on abortion, and then Joe Lieberman or Olympia Snowe has to compromise. Snowe is the more likely of the two, so, barring a change of heart, the best that Senate Democrats can do, at the moment, is probably to water down their Medicare buy-in and add a trigger mechanism to it, which will probably get Snowe's vote. Probably.

The good news for Democrats is that once they pass this bill, they can add subsidies through the much-easier reconciliation process later on. They've got several years to do so, assuming they retain their majority, which is probably not possible if they fail to pass health care.

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