Friday, December 18, 2009

the $1,000,000 politician

NYTimes | First, Senator Joseph Lieberman — the former Democrat, current independent from Connecticut — rejected the so-called public health care option. Then he threatened to torpedo the entire health care reform bill if it allowed people over 55 to buy Medicare plans.

The aim of that idea, like the public option, is to provide more choice for consumers and more competition for the private insurance industry. And that industry, you will not be surprised to hear, has been very, very good to Mr. Lieberman.

What makes it all the more hypocritical is that Mr. Lieberman claims to want health care reform. And way back in September, the senator was publicly championing a Medicare buy-in.

In an interview with The Connecticut Post, he said he had been refining his views on health care for many years and was “very focused on a group post-50, or maybe more like post-55” whose members should be able to buy Medicare if they lacked insurance.

This week, when there actually seemed to be a compromise on health care that did not focus on Mr. Lieberman, he announced that he would block the package if the Democrats included a terrible idea — allowing people between 55 and 65 to buy Medicare.

He presented this as a principled effort to keep down federal debt, but when a Times reporter asked about his 180-degree turn, he said he had forgotten taking his earlier position until the Democratic leadership reminded him about it over the weekend.

Mr. Lieberman has taken more than $1 million from the industry over his Senate career. In his 2006 re-election campaign, he ranked second in the Senate in contributions from the industry. He doesn’t seem to have forgotten that.

The Senate bill was better with the public option, as weak as it was. The Medicare buy-in was an intriguing alternative. Still, even without either one, the Senate must pass this vital measure.

Now that Mr. Lieberman has gotten his way and everyone’s attention, he has a responsibility to move things forward. He can help persuade a wavering Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and a hesitant Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine, to vote for the bill. Or has he also forgotten his commitment to health care reform?