10.27.09

Traitor Joe

The ex-Democrat now says he’ll join the GOP in a health-care filibuster. Paul Begala on Lieberman’s latest and most shameless betrayal.

It's journalistic shorthand to note a politician's party identification and state after his or her name. For example: Jane Doe (D-NY). And so Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman is identified as (I-CT). But the “I” does not stand for "Independent." It stands for "Insurance Industry."

Lieberman says he will join a Republican filibuster against President Obama's health-insurance reforms. You could see this coming from a mile away—actually from 15 years away.

In 1993 and 94, Lieberman consistently opposed President Clinton's reform bill—which did not have a public option. In case you're keeping score at home, Lieberman will filibuster the Obama plan, which has a public option, and he opposed the Clinton reform plan, which did not. Anything that protects consumers, it seems, is a bridge too far for Sen. Lieberman.

Lieberman sided with insurance companies against sick people, and with insurance companies against citizens who want to sue to protect their rights in court. As The New York Times reported, "Many of Mr. Lieberman's friends said he had no alternative but to take this position because it was the one favored by the insurance industry. The industry is important to Connecticut's economy and has generously donated to Mr. Lieberman's campaigns over the years."

Too much at once? Why didn’t that occur to Sen. Lieberman when we were fighting a war in Afhganistan, and he was cheerleading for an invasion of Iraq?

But in fairness to Sen. Lieberman, that's just what his friends said back in 2000, not what he says today. What he says today is that President Obama is "trying to do too much at once."

Too much at once? Too much at once? Why didn't that occur to Sen. Lieberman when we were fighting a war in Afhganistan, and he was cheerleading for an invasion of Iraq? Too much at once? How about 4,351 dead American heroes who gave their lives in a war that Joe Lieberman didn't think was doing too much?

Or how about FEMA? Lieberman insisted in letting the Department of Homeland Security swallow it up. Hillary Clinton warned him, basically saying FEMA was going to be doing too much in the event of a natural disaster and shouldn't be burdened by extra bureaucracy. But Sen. Lieberman didn't think FEMA was doing too much. You might say he thought Brownie was doing a heckuva job—because Sen. Lieberman blindly rubber-stamped Michael Brown when President George W. Bush plucked him from the Arabian Horse Association to run FEMA. Maybe Lieberman was doing too much to ask why President Bush was putting an unqualified boob in a life-and-death job.

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Even before then, when George H.W. Bush was trying to pass a capital gains tax cut for the idle rich, Sen. Lieberman didn't think he was doing too much. No, Sen. Lieberman joined with Republicans and voted in favor of special breaks for the Paris Hilton class. He led the fight against Securities & Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt's accounting reforms, which were designed to rein in corporate abuses. Apparently Clinton and Levitt were just doing too much.

Sen. Lieberman is always there when we don't need him. Don't ask him to do more than that. It's just too much.

Paul Begala is a CNN political contributor and a research professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. He was a senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House.