Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Will Progressives Backlash Over Healthcare Reform?

Summary: With Lieberman holding up the Senate healthcare bill, Democrats need to explore their options looking forward to 2010.

Every liberal in the country following the ongoing healthcare debate is furious. Much of this anger is directed at one man in particular: Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

After Senate Democrats met to reach a compromise bill that could pass the 60-vote threshold for cloture, they cut the public option and replaced it with a plan to allow 55-64-year-olds to opt-in to Medicare, and give the government power to negotiate non-profit plans with private insurance companies.

For Lieberman, that was not good enough. He continued to threaten a “no” vote on cloture, preventing a final up-or-down vote on the bill. The White House pushed Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to accommodate Lieberman’s concerns and cut the Medicare expansion provision.

Progressives, who have argued that reform without a public option is hardly reform at all, seemed to wake up to the threat Lieberman poses for passage of a bill. Headlines from the Huffington Post this week read along the lines of the Connecticut Senator holding healthcare hostage.

To be sure, the fight over healthcare reform on the part of political activists is still heavy on the conservative end, but as this recent Politico video demonstrates, neither side of the debate is happy with Lieberman.

What other developments have come out of Lieberman’s stubbornness?

• Liberals are becoming as likely to oppose the Senate bill as conservatives. Former DNC Chairman - and a big advocate of healthcare reform - Howard Dean, M.D. told MSNBC last night that “you can’t vote for this bill in good conscience.” The video below includes Dean’s interview, as well as a lot of insight towards how progressives are feeling right now.

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Now, not all liberals are going to necessarily agree. In a late-night post this morning, Nate Silver suggested that progressives were “[expletive] crazy to oppose the Senate bill.”

“I understand that most of the liberal skepticism over the Senate bill is well intentioned. But it has become way, way off the mark. Where do you think the $800 billion goes? It goes to low-income families just like these. Where do you think it comes from? We won't know for sure until the Senate and House produce their conference bill, but it comes substantially from corporations and high-income earners, plus some efficiency gains.”

Silver argues that come 2016 (even after inflation) a family of four earning $54,000 per year will still pay significantly less for coverage.

His only mistake might be that the public option would, in fact, help hold down costs. The data he uses is from a CBO report that took the public option into account. Without the public option, premiums may rise a lot faster than 7.5% per year.

• Politico reports that Lieberman’s Connecticut colleagues are “fed up” with him. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) even told the news service “No individual should hold health care hostage, including Joe Lieberman, and I’ll say it flat out, I think he ought to be recalled.”

• When asked if he would run as a Republican when his term ends in 2012, Lieberman told CNN it was “a possibility” and that “all options are open.”

• The House Democrats are becoming increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the Senate. Some went so far as to say “Sometimes I get the feeling that some of those guys [in the Senate] just like to see their names in the paper and see their faces on TV,” and “If you just take a look at the number of bills we’ve sent to the Senate and what they’ve done, I don’t know what they’re doing with their time honestly.”

• Upset that one or two Senators could uphold an entire bill years-in-the-making - like Lieberman and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) have done with healthcare - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) recently announced that he was considering introducing a bill that would eliminate the Senate filibuster.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

"It really is an abuse," Harkin said. "It's an abuse of a person's position as a senator to demand, because we need one more vote, just to demand everything. It's really unfair to the rest of the Senate, rest of the caucus."

He said lots of senators, himself included, have to come to terms with disappointments in the health care bill.

"To sort of lay down an ultimatum, 'Well, it's got to be this or nothing and I'm walking away from it,' well that's not the way you do legislation," Harkin said. "If you want to be a legislator, maybe it's not the right place for a person to be that takes a position like that."

Harkin said he's not sure about the level of support among other senators for eliminating the filibuster. He noted that he proposed legislation to do so years ago.

But perhaps Joe Scarborough made the best point this morning on his MSNBC program, “Morning Joe”, where he said that passing a healthcare bill progressives were unhappy with would be worse for the party’s 2010 prospects than they realize. It would keep the base at home come election time in November.

We made a similar assertion a few weeks ago when we listed the Top 5 things Democrats needed to do in 2010:

Make sure the base believes in you. Many moderate Democrats in Congress seem to think that the only way they can win a re-election is by opposing the current healthcare reform bills. But the surest way to be defeated is to fail on healthcare reform. The base believed in you in 2006 and 2008 because you said you would bring change - if you fail them with big margins in Congress and control of the White house they will not help your re-election campaign and they may stay home on Election Day. That would be the surest way for a Democrat to lose. If the base doesn’t show up, you’re finished. If you’re running for re-election, you must fulfill at least some of your basic promises to your supporters.”

Democrats do have some leverage over Lieberman that they still seem reluctant to use: his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Threatening to strip him of that role if he filibusters a favorable healthcare bill is the only way Senate Democrats can expect to pass a bill and keep the base happy.

In fact, most Americans agree with this course of action. A recent Research 2000 poll found that a plurality of Americans (by a 47%-32% margin) support this punishment. More importantly, 81% of the Democratic base agrees.

The healthcare debate is sure to shape the outcomes of the 2010 midterm elections. The Tea Parties have been strong and they may drive some key GOP victories. But Democrats need to be equally concerned about alienating their own supporters. 2010 will be a backlash year for Democrats, but fail on healthcare reform and the hardest backlash will come from the progressive base.

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