"I can`t see a way in which I could vote for cloture on any bill that contained a creation of a government-operated-run insurance company "¦ It`s just asking for trouble." -- Senator Joseph Lieberman, October 2009.
Will the real Joe Lieberman please stand up? Well, I think he has. Because despite his lip service to universal health care when he was in a tough re-election fight, history has shown that whenever there`s a chance to pass health care reform, you count on Joe to vote against it.
On Tuesday, Lieberman announced that he`ll support a GOP-led filibuster of any health care bill that includes a government-run insurance program -- even if it includes a provision allowing states to opt out.
Lieberman has been on the record as opposing the use of a filibuster on legislation he plans to oppose. So why is he now in favor of using such a procedure to hold the health care reform process hostage?
It`s not as if Sen. Lieberman is representing the views of the majority of the nation`s citizens or of his constituents. The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll found firm support for a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Other surveys have found similar results. In fact, respondents in the NYT/CBS poll were overwhelmingly in favor of a Medicare-type public plan (65 percent in favor, 26 percent opposed and 9 percent offering no opinion), which goes beyond what is proposed in any of the current bills.
Here in the Nutmeg State, residents support giving people the option to buy health insurance from a government plan by a 64-30 majority, according to a September 2009 Quinnipiac poll.
So why is Lieberman acting in direct opposition to his constituents` wishes?
The senator told Politico that he "very much" wants to vote for health care reform but that he`s worried about stifling "the economic recovery we`re in" or adding to the federal debt. He added that he`d vote against the public option plan "even with an opt-out because it still creates a whole new government entitlement program for which taxpayers will be on the line."
Say what? The Senate proposal calls for a public health insurance entity that would compete against privately run plans. It would be financed by the premiums paid by its customers just as private plans are, not subsidized by taxpayers. What taxpayers would pay for are the subsidies to help lower-income people pay for coverage -- these would be available to pay for private coverage too, and would be in the bill with or without the public option. The goal of the public option is to provide choice. And for those of us who are self-insured with the option of one insurer to whom we pay exorbitant rates increasing by 18-20 percent a year, that`s a good thing.
Given this, Lieberman`s complaint that a public option would create an expensive new "entitlement" seems "¦ irrational.
What`s the real issue? Well, Connecticut is home to several big insurance companies, who don`t want competition. One of Lieberman`s top 10 campaign contributors in the 2006 election was Aetna. Another was Purdue Pharma. Yet Connecticut`s other senator, Chris Dodd, has been a firm supporter of the public option.
Sen. Lieberman should respect his constituents` wishes and vote for the public option plan instead of being a roadblock to reform. He said he was for universal health care before the 2006 election. It`s time he votes that way, instead of just paying lip service to the idea when he`s up for re-election.