The press is all aflutter with the idea that Joe Lieberman, with his stubborn opposition to the “public option” (a government run insurer competing against private insurers), may prevent Senator Reid from corralling the 60 votes he needs to overcome a Republican filibuster.
It reminds me of Macaulay’s famous Horatius, where Horatio blocked the last bridge into Rome and prevented the Etruscan army from sacking the city. Here’s my (bad) gloss on the poem:
Hew down the bridge, Sir McConnell, with all the speed ye may!
I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path, fifty-seven may well be stopped by three:
Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?
Then out spake Ben Nelson; a Nebraskan proud was he:
“Lo, I will stand at thy right hand and keep the bridge with thee.”
And out spake strong Blanche Lincoln; of Arkansan blood was she:
“I will abide on thy left side, and keep the bridge with thee.”
It’s a daunting thought that only Joe Lieberman stands athwart the transformation of the U.S. into a European-style welfare state. Alas, it’s not all that reassuring: Horatio only had to defend one bridge, and there’s more than one route into Obamacare.
First, Reid can come up with some compromise like the trigger option supported by Senator Snowe which could lure one or two GOP votes into the Dem coalition to make up for Lieberman’s loss. Alternately, Reid can back down at the last minute, turn to his liberal base and tell them that three-quarters of a loaf is better than none at all.
And this may be the most worrisome scenario. The insurance regulations in the House and Senate bills are so onerous and expensive that they basically turn it into a regulated industry — free market in name only. Afterward, if costs don’t come under control in a year or two (and they won’t, thanks to the same heavy-handed regulations) Democrats can demand a much stronger public option in the name of cost control.
In other words, there’s a very real danger that making the public option the casus belli will let Reid pivot and dump it, getting almost everything else he wants, and leaving critics too little time to combat or publicize the other bad provisions in the legislation.
The key is to attack the public option while pointing out the many other bad provisions in the bill that will explode the deficit and reorder a full one-sixth of the U.S. economy. As more and more Americans become unhappy with deficits as far as the eye can see and with the Beltway’s rapid annexation of large swaths of what was once the private sector (Detroit, Wall Street, etc), the best defense is a good offense.