Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said his caucus will back a health care bill that include a public option even though he did not have, at that time, the 60 votes he would need to overcome a filibuster. Senator Reid, who is up for re-election in 2010, has been roundly criticized by the liberals he will need in his campaign for re-election for his failure to press for a public option and for his failure to rally the Democrats behind some other popular liberal causes like the closing of the constitutionally dubious war detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The senate majority leader said he would not let the Obama administration detain war combatants on U.S. soil.
His Democratic constituents were pleased with yesterday's announcement. Though the public option would not be provided to everyone who wanted to opt for it, and though states would be free to opt out, Mr. Reid's support for the public option emboldened them. Mr. Reid, they thought, would not come out for a public option he would fail to obtain.
Today, however, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), one of two independents who officially caucuses with the Democrats, undercut the reformers' efforts by announcing his intent to filibuster any motion to close the debate on this public-option inclusive health care reform bill, thereby denying them an up or down vote on the bill.
Mr. Lieberman had proven himself to be a disappointment to say the least. He unsuccessfully urged Connecticut Democrats to opt for him over Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary even if they disagreed with his support for the war in Iraq, then he endorsed Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) largely because of his support for the war in Iraq. The senator who, only three years ago, said he was a good Democrat who supports the Democratic Party some 85+% of the time. Today, however, the Senator has decided to back the health insurance industry that fills his campaign coffers when he is up for re-election. That he threatened to oppose this bill shouldn't be all that surprising since the state capital, Hartford, is "insurance capital of the world." Aetna is headquartered there.
Senator Reid should have, and perhaps has, seen this coming. The "independent Democrat" wasn't going to anger his backers within the insurance industry and when Mr. Lieberman downplayed Lieberman's announcement, he (perhaps?) showed his cards by suggesting that the "independent Democrat" would eventually vote for the bill once some unspecified modifications are made. Cynics would question Mr. Reid's commitment to the public option. Mr. Reid's announcement, they would assert, was designed to win some favor from the liberal base he would need in the upcoming election so if and when the public option went down into defeat they would turn their ire to the other senators who voted against it when Reid claims he couldn't help it since the votes were not there. I can't say those skeptics are wrong.