With Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) unlikely to support a trade off that would replace a public option with a measure allowing certain people to buy into the Medicare program, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is a must have vote. He just gave his Democratic colleagues some breathing room.
Lieberman said he's open to both the Medicare buy-in idea, and a separate proposal to extend the private system that insures federal employees to individuals and small businesses.
On the Medicare buy-in--which has significant appeal among liberals--Lieberman was open, but non-committal. "I'll take a look at it," Lieberman said. "I think the good news is, however, that the current bill will, for the first time, provide people 55 and over who are not yet eligible for Medicare with subsidies to go on to the exchanges and buy, so they can buy for a lot less than it costs them in the marketplace now."
"I'm open to looking at it," Lieberman told reporters. "But I want to make sure that we're not...adding a big additional burden to the Medicare program."
However, Lieberman seemed much less open to yet another potential public option trade-off, to extend Medicaid to everybody under 150 percent of the poverty line.
If the public option discussions result in an accord, Democrats will need Lieberman's vote. They'll also need an assurance from Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)--and that's very much in doubt at the moment.
Additional reporting by Evan McMorris-Santoro.