The Decisions That Must Be Made

The health care debate has officially arrived at its most critical juncture. Joe Lieberman's "I will never compromise in any way whatsoever that could hurt Aetna" tantrum, which proves definitively once and for all that he needs to be stripped of his committee chairmanship and targeted for defeat by Democrats in 2012, has brought progressive groups, activists, and members of Congress to the brink of a decision we fervently hoped we could avoid making. Absent some miracle of policy creativity or leg breaking persuasion, progressives are going to have to make a choice: do we give in on the public option but then use our leverage to demand the most progressive possible legislation on everything else in this bill, or do we say no to the whole bill, forcing Democrats to start over or give up entirely on passing the health bill? (Reconciliation in my mind is a form of starting over given how complicated it is procedurally, and given that the bill would probably have to broken up into at least two different pieces of legislation to pass it.)

First though, other than thoroughly denouncing Lieberman for the arrogant insurance flack that he is, I think progressives should hold our powder and wait to see the next maneuver by Reid and the other Democrats. There is still a chance that a creative new approach on the policy side, combined with extreme pressure on Lieberman from the political side, might resolve this situation in some manner progressives could possibly live with. I think we should save our flamethrowers and grenades for a day or two to see what happens next, because I know Reid and others inside are continuing to work this thing internally. And with the news this weekend catching everyone by surprise (Lieberman had actually signed off on the compromise before he decided to oppose it), I honestly don't think we have enough information to make a decision yet anyway. Given that we literally don't know what bill Reid is intending to introduce yet, it's hard to know whether to oppose it or support it.

So I'm holding my powder for the moment. Reid came through on putting the public option in the original merged bill, and he came through in delivering 60 votes for the motion to proceed with debate, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for a while longer. But I go back to what I have written before, and what those of us at OpenLeft have demanded in our petition to Reid: one way or another, you have to deliver. Get it done, whatever it takes, Senator: breaking Lieberman's legs (metaphorically, at least), reconciliation, the nuclear option, they all work for me. Whatever it takes.

In terms of that ultimate decision I discussed at the beginning, while I'm not ready to make that decision, I know what my inclination is: stand up to Lieberman. One man's tantrum should not determine the fate of the entire Democratic party's policy decisions. While I have been more understanding than many progressives of why Reid doesn't want to go the reconciliation route, for example, I think we should be ready to do it if that is what it comes down to. It would be problematic on many different levels, but whatever we have to do to get a good bill should be done. Whatever it takes.