By Jerry Adler
WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 16—Senate negotiators attempting to iron out details of a health-care reform bill acceded today to demands by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) that the legislation not cover Americans born in a month without an “r,” a provision the Congressional Budget Office said would “make America the laughingstock of the world” but save $7.6 trillion over the next 15 years. Lieberman, whose amendment requiring Americans to sign up for health insurance at their place of worship was reluctantly endorsed by the administration last week, made the new demand at a “tense” lunch meeting with leading Democrats, according to a Senate staffer who asked not to be identified because “the guy just kind of spooks me, you know?” Sources at the meeting said Lieberman became visibly angered when the only sandwiches left when he arrived were ham and Swiss, and he accused “the Moveon.org crowd” of stealing his tuna salad.
Republicans, while cautiously welcoming the new provision, warned that much more must be done to reduce the budgetary impact of the bill . . .
WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 17—The Obama administration and Senate Democrats, trying to hold together a fragile 60-vote coalition for health-care reform, expressed relief today when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) tentatively agreed to support a compromise plan to force hospitals to phase in adoption of computerized medical-records technology according to a timetable linked to reductions in postoperative readmissions, a provision that the Congressional Budget Office said was “incomprehensible” but could save $6 trillion over the next 20 years. A Democratic aide who asked not to be identified because “I might have to ride in an elevator with the guy some day” explained that Lieberman “didn’t seem to understand what it was all about, but maybe he got up on the right side of the bed this morning for a change.”
A spokesman for Lieberman denied reports that his support came in exchange for an appropriation for $2.5 billion to begin work on a new generation of solar-powered submarines. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the new “Joementum” class of subs, to be built in Lieberman’s home state of Connecticut, “will enhance both sustainable technology and our deterrent capabilities,” although critics contend the military usefulness of the new subs will be limited by their need to operate only on the surface.
Republicans, while appearing equally confused about the new provisions in the bill, called it “only a first step” in reducing the unacceptably high overall cost of the proposed legislation . . .
WASHINGTON, D.C. Dec 18—Hope for passing health-care reform this year seemed to hit a roadblock today as Sen. Joe Lieberman announced that he wanted more time to think about whether it was a good idea in the first place. At an impromptu press conference on the steps of the Lieberman Senate Office Building, the Connecticut independent told reporters that “in my opinion, the whole ‘crisis of more than 40 million uninsured Americans’ thing is kind of overblown,” and “maybe our efforts should be directed at the real crisis in America today,” which a Lieberman aide later confirmed was a reference to the senator’s proposed bill regulating obscene lyrics in rap music. A spokesman for the Congressional Budget Office responded to the news by saying, “What the bleep?”