Last Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that a compromise had been reached on the “public option.” Even though he wouldn’t say what it the deal was, and even most Democrats didn’t know, the media soon declared that passing a health care bill was inevitable. But less than a week later, the deal has already fallen apart, thanks to Sen. Joe Lieberman — with an assist from Sen. Ben Nelson.
It was actually pretty comical to watch CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday (video, transcript). Sen. Jay Rockefeller sat there and declared that health care legislation had “tremendous momentum” in the Senate, while accross the table, Sens. Lieberman and Nelson shook their heads and said neither of them could vote for the current bill.
“(T)hey’re not 60 votes for health care reform in the Senate now,” Lieberman declared.
And his complaints with the bill weren’t limited to the public option: “You’ve got to take out the Medicare buy-in. You’ve got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the Class Act, which was a whole new entitlement program that will, in future years, put us further into deficit. And you’ve got to adopt some of the cost containment provisions that will strengthen cost containment, that all of us favor.”
But an amendment by Sen. John Thune to strip the the Class Act, a government long-term care insurance program envisioned by Ted Kennedy, came nine votes short of the 60 it needed.
Meanwhile, Sen. Nelson said that in addition to reservations about the Medicare expansion pending the Congressional Budget Office report, he remains concerned about the lack of Stupak-like language on abortion, and didn’t seem all that optimistic that a compromise was possible after the defeat of an amendment he sponsored with Sen. Orrin Hatch.
“I can’t support the bill with the — the abortion language that’s there,” Nelson said. “Unfortunately, the Nelson-Hatch failed and — but I do know that there are some who are, right now, trying to find language that might be compatible with the Stupak language in the House. That’s a tall order for people. And I’m not prescribing ahead what they may be able to do.”
By last night, the Huffington Post was reporting that Lieberman told Reid to his face that he could not vote for the bill in its current form, and the left was in full panic mode. Talking Points Memo ran the banner headline, “Health Care Reform in Peril.” The Washington Post‘s liberal health care blogger Ezra Klein accused Lieberman of “just torturing liberals.” He wrote that Lieberman is “willing to directly cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score.”
The problem is that Reid was in a position where everything would have to go perfectly to be able to pass a health care bill by Christmas, an outcome President Obama predicted on in his interview on “60 Minutes” that aired last night. But now, assuming Lieberman means what he says, that seems increasingly unlikely. Either Reid will have to pull a new compromise out of his hat like magic or get liberals to accept all of Nelson and Lieberman’s demands, or this thing is going to spill over into next year, and the whole effort may collapse altogether.
But before you get too excited, just remember that the media was declaring health care legislation “inevitable” last Tuesday, so we shouldn’t assume it’s doomed today. The story keeps changing.