Lieberman Disputes Claims He Blindsided Reid

Posted January 13, 2010 at 3:11pm

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) is disputing claims by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he blindsided and betrayed the Nevada Democrat when he announced on a Sunday talk show late last year that he would filibuster health care reform legislation if it included a Medicare expansion.

Reid’s account of the matter is set to be published in an upcoming New York Times Magazine story. Lieberman’s office on Wednesday made available a copy of a private letter sent to Reid three days before the Lieberman revealed his position on a Medicare buy-in proposal, which had been part of a compromise to the public insurance option in the Senate health care bill.

News of the letter was first reported by Politico.

In a statement given to Roll Call, Lieberman spokesman Marshall Wittmann said his boss doesn’t believe the New York Times Magazine’s account of Reid’s reaction to Lieberman’s statement on the Sunday show — a Dec. 13 appearance on CBS’s Face The Nation. Wittman also disputed the facts.

“Senator Lieberman does not believe that Senator Reid would say the words attributed to him by anonymous sources in the New York Times Magazine in an upcoming issue dated January 24th because they are contrary to their relationship and the facts of the situation. The remarks attributed to Senator Reid by unnamed ‘associates’ about Senator Lieberman ‘double-crossing’ the Leader are completely false, untrue and have absolutely no basis in fact,— Wittmann said. “Senator Lieberman was crystal clear to Senator Reid concerning his opposition to the Medicare-buy in proposal. In fact, Senator Lieberman communicated that message to Senator Reid in the attached letter on December 10, the Thursday before the Sunday these remarks were supposed to have been said by Senator Reid. As Senator Lieberman indicates in the letter to Senator Reid outlining his opposition to the Medicare buy in proposal, ‘Throughout our relationship, we have always been open and direct with one another.’—

Throughout the health care debate, Lieberman was on the record as being opposed to the public insurance option, going so far as to vow to filibuster any bill that included it in any form.

To try to assuage opponents to the public option, Reid tasked a group of moderate and liberal Democrats to develop an alternative. The group of 10 Senators appeared to settle on a proposal that included allowing individuals ages 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare.

But once Lieberman announced he would join the Republicans in blocking the bill over the Medicare proposal, Reid was forced to drop it. According to the magazine story, Reid believes Lieberman had assured him he could support the Medicare expansion. However, Lieberman argues otherwise, and is pointing to a Dec. 10 letter he sent to the Majority Leader as proof.

The letter, made available by Lieberman’s office, reads as follows:

“It has been very good to work with you in the current health care legislative process, just as it has throughout your leadership. I have great respect for you, and great trust in you. (I even like you). Throughout our relationship, we have always been open and direct with one another. That is why, because I do not know what is in the proposals that the group of ten has asked you to send to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), I am sending you this letter to clarify where I am on them based on the variety of possibilities I have heard.

—I might well be able to support the so-called Office of Personnel Management (OPM) proposal, where a private insurance company, non-profit or profit, can apply to OPM to enter negotiations to be approved to offer health insurance on the 50 state exchanges. This will add to competition and choice on the exchanges and probably lower prices, without raising any risk of federal government taxpayer liability for costs or other responsibilities. As I have said repeatedly, I cannot support any fallback or trigger that would say that if OPM doesn’t negotiate an agreement with a national plan, then OPM would create a public option or non-profit insurance company to compete on the exchanges.

—Regarding the “Medicare buy-in— proposal, the more I learn about it, the less I like it. A similar idea was part of the Democratic platform of 2000 which I ran on with Al Gore. But that was a very different time. The federal government had a surplus, Medicare wasn’t facing imminent bankruptcy, and there wasn’t a health care reform bill that created a vast new system of subsidies and tax credits and exchanges which will probably provide more assistance to this 55-65 year old population than the Medicare buy-in will. In fact, this becomes so clear, that I fear the people who are advocating the Medicare buy-in are doing so not because they think it will give more help to these Americans than the subsidies and exchanges, but because they see it as a big step toward a single payer system as Congressman Anthony Wiener and others have explicitly said.

—Of course, there are also concerns about what impact this Medicare buy-in idea would have on Medicare solvency and Medicare premiums. I have a feeling I will not be the only member of our Caucus who will not want to see this Medicare buy-in proposal adopted.

—The great majority of the merged bill you have offered, Harry, has the support of all members of our Caucus, and, if adopted, would be an enormous accomplishment that will improve the lives of millions of Americans. It is very progressive legislation. My hope is that you can convince our progressive colleagues to declare victory since real people will see real benefits if your bill passes.

—I am taking the liberty of sending confidential copies of this to Chuck Schumer and Mark Pryor because of the leadership role they are playing on these matters.—