From E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post:
Take yourself back to the endless wrangling in Sen. Max Baucus’ Finance Committee – or, more particularly, among his select “gang of six,” including three Republicans, two of whom clearly never had any intention of voting for health-care reform. They negotiated and negotiated and negotiated and negotiated — and got nowhere. Baucus failed to produce a draft bill before the August recess. The Democrats’ summer of discontent and the tea party madness followed.
This, it turns out, was a crucial moment. It set back the schedule for a health-care bill by at least a month, maybe two. There was no urgency in the Baucus process. Now there is urgency. And that gave Joe Lieberman his near dictatorial powers to kill a Medicare buy-in proposal that he had supported as recently as three months ago.
If the bill had stayed on schedule — if this were, say, Nov. 15th, not Dec. 15th — there would still be time to wrangle. But time is running out.
The vast majority of Senate Democrats — reluctantly, sadly, in some cases, angrily — caved to Lieberman because, in the end, they share President Obama’s view that a health-care bill needs to get out of the Senate before the end of the year.
This gave Lieberman the whip hand. I find Lieberman’s behavior in this affair unconscionable, and I share [Ezra] Klein’s anger with him, which produced his dust-up with Chuck Lane on this blog. Klein is right that there is not a shred of principle in Lieberman’s opposition to the proposal to allow people 55 and over to buy into Medicare. Again: Lieberman supported the idea just three months ago. The genius of the compromise negotiated by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was that it got rid of the old public option, objectionable to Lieberman and some other moderates, and replaced it with a more modest but potentially promising test of the public option idea that many of the moderates, including Lieberman, had supported in the past.
I think the evidence is overwhelming that Lieberman double-crossed Reid, Schumer and the rest of his colleagues.
The Medicare buy-in compromise was not announced until it had been cleared with Lieberman. I was in close touch with the negotiations at the time, and everyone involved thought Lieberman was on board. I don’t think they misunderstood what Lieberman was telling them, since his own public statement at the time, while cautious, was positive. “I am encouraged by the progress toward a consensus on proposals to send to the Congressional Budget Office to review,” he said on Dec. 9. […] But of course Lieberman did not so “look forward” to the Congressional Budget Office analysis that he actually waited to see it. He dropped the hammer on the buy-in before the analysis appeared. This is not about substance. It’s about political positioning.
Senate liberals, on the other hand, care primarily about expanding health-care coverage, which is why they are willing to give way on the Medicare buy-in to get a bill passed. They know the buy-in, though a good idea, is less important than moving toward a system of near-universal coverage.
The undemocratic Senate, which vastly over-represents conservative states and rural interests, has become even more undemocratic by the over-use of the filibuster, which gives tiny minorities — sometimes a minority of one — the power to kill proposals supported by the vast majority of its members. That’s why there was no time to lose during the Finance Committee’s leisurely negotiations. But that time was lost, and so was the public option and the Medicare buy-in, at least in the Senate.