Sept. 2, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Lieberman Sets Off a Scramble

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Democrats are hoping to keep their health care reform bill alive after Sen. Joe Lieberman threatened to filibuster it over an expansion of Medicare.

“Sen. Lieberman, it’s my understanding, proposed a similar measure a very few years ago, so I’m not sure why he’s having a hard time with it today,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a member of the group of 10 Senators who helped craft the compromise Medicare buy-in proposal.

The group Landrieu participated in tentatively agreed to jettison the bill’s public health insurance option in favor of creating a nonprofit health insurance exchange and an expansion of Medicare, among other things. Reid convened the group because of Lieberman and others’ public option threats. Lieberman was initially invited to join the group, but he didn’t participate. Instead, he sent a few staffers to the talks.

Aides said Reid went into damage-control mode Monday to stop other moderates, such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), from following Lieberman’s lead by drawing lines in the sand.

The fear, the senior Senate Democratic aide said, is that Lieberman may act “as a magnet that draws out other people when those people were pretty close to being in the fold at the end of last week.”

With other Democratic centrists expressing concerns about expanding Medicare as well, Democratic aides said Reid had already expected to make revisions to a compromise proposal that had been crafted by the five liberals and five moderates. Unlike other centrists, however, Lieberman appears to have ignored entreaties to withhold judgment until the Congressional Budget Office finishes its official cost estimate of the plan.

Senate leaders found Lieberman’s stance on Medicare surprising given that he campaigned for president in 2004 and for vice president in 2000 on a platform of expanding the federal health program by allowing seniors ages 55 to 64 to buy in to it — just as the proposed Senate compromise would do.

As recently as Sept. 9, Lieberman outlined his support for the Medicare buy-in proposal.

In explaining his opposition to the public insurance option sought by liberals, Lieberman said in an online chat hosted by the Connecticut Post: “My proposals were to basically expand the existing, successful public health insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid. ... When it came to Medicare I was very focused on a group ... post 55 [years old], people who have retired early or unfortunately been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and they’re too young to qualify for Medicare and what I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare early, and again on the premise that that would be less expensive.”

Lieberman spokeswoman Erika Masonhall said Lieberman made those statements before the Senate Finance Committee passed its bill in October and included numerous provisions making it easier for seniors under 65 to afford insurance.

“Any inclusion of a Medicare buy-in for that same age group would be duplicative of what is already in the bill, would put the government on the hook for billions of additional dollars, and would potentially threaten the solvency of Medicare, which is already in a perilous state. The Senator also has concerns that this provision would result in cost-shifting that would drive up premiums for others, including those with employer-based coverage,” Masonhall said.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders also took friendly fire from the White House, which disputed accounts that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had told Reid to strike an agreement with Lieberman.

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