Lieberman: Sure, I’d Filibuster A Health Care Reform Bill With A Public Option

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told reporters today that he would in fact filibuster any health care bill he doesn’t agree with–and right now, he doesn’t agree with the public option proposal making its way through the Senate.

“I told Senator Reid that I’m strongly inclined–i haven’t totally decided, but I’m strongly inclined–to vote to proceed to the health care debate, even though I don’t support the bill that he’s bringing together because it’s important that we start the debate on health care reform because I want to vote for health care reform this year. But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill.”

There are two procedural issues at play here. Most people think of a filibuster as a minority blocking passage of a bill that’s already been debated ad nauseum on the Senate floor. That’s the most standard filibuster. But on major legislation, it’s become more common for the minority–in this case the Republicans–to object to the majority getting a chance to debate legislation in the first place. If any one of them objects to the so-called motion to proceed, it will take 60 votes just to start the amendment and debate process. That’s a less-discussed filibuster, but it’s quite plausible that this health care bill will have to contend with it.

Lieberman is saying that he’s pretty much OK with letting senators offer amendments–try to change the legislation, move it in any direction they deem necessary. But when that process is all over, and Harry Reid wants to hold an up or down vote on the final product, Lieberman’s saying he’ll join that filibuster, if he’s not happy with the finished product. Point blank.

Even Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) doesn’t go that far. “I’m not going to make up my mind until I actually see the bill,” he told reporters.

One of Lieberman’s main objections to the health care bill is that it includes a public option, which he describes as a burden on taxpayers.

“I think a lot of people may think that the public option is free. It’s not. It’s going to cost the taxpayers and people who have health insurance now, and if it doesn’t it’s going to add terribly to the national debt…there’s so much in this health reform legislation that is so good, that I think they’re just putting an unnecessary burden on top of it by creating another Washington-based entitlement program.”

This is at great odds with the findings of most experts, who say that, by bringing efficiencies into the greater insurance market, and therefore lowering the government’s subsidy burden, a public option will actually save money.

I asked him to square his rationale with the experts consensus, but he was undeterred. “Well all the history we have of health entitlement programs, including the two big ones that I dearly support, Medicare and Medicaid, is that they end up costing more than we’re prepared to pay, and they add to the debt, and then they add to the burden on taxpayers.”

As written, congressional health care legislation would require the public option–whether administered by a government, or by an outside body–would be financed by premiums, and unable to draw on federal funds.

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