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Lieberman Riles His Party Again

Draws Line on Public Option

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Joe Lieberman said Tuesday that he would support a filibuster of a final health care bill that contains a public insurance option.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) told his Democratic colleagues nearly a year ago that they would “not regret” letting him keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But after Lieberman signaled Tuesday his willingness to filibuster the Democrats’ top legislative priority this year — health care reform — leaders may feel the need to remind him of his own words in order to avoid another vote on punishing one of their own.

“We have a long ways to go before we get there,” Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) said. “We’re working through all those details. ... I’m optimistic that we will not be in that position.”

But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued what appeared to be a veiled threat when told of Lieberman’s position. After all, it was President Barack Obama who came to Lieberman’s defense last fall when, after Lieberman spent a year campaigning for then-presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Democratic Conference considered stripping him of his gavel.

“I think Democrats and Republicans alike will be held accountable by their constituents who want to see health care reform enacted this year,” Gibbs said. “And we know that if that doesn’t happen, people say they’ll be very disappointed by that, and we think people will make progress to ensure that this gets done.”

Still, Lieberman appeared to box himself in Tuesday, unlike a handful of other Democratic centrists who have expressed skepticism about voting for the bill but have stopped short of saying they would block the bill from passing.

Though Lieberman said he would vote for cloture to allow the Senate to officially begin debate on the health care overhaul, he said he is prepared to support a Republican filibuster of the measure if it includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) plan to create a public insurance option.

“I’m inclined to vote for cloture on the motion to proceed to a debate on health care reform because I believe we need to have a debate on health care reform, and I hope to be in a position to vote yes on health care reform,” Lieberman told reporters Tuesday. “But I’ve also said that if the current proposal remains as it is, unamended before the final vote on the floor, that I will not vote for cloture because I don’t support a government-operated health insurance company that will end up costing taxpayers a lot of money.”

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