Bring On the Lieberman Filibuster

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Joe Lieberman’s latest threat to block the Senate Democrats’ “compromise” reform bill is the big health care news this week. As CNN reports:

Lieberman has emerged as the main obstacle to Reid’s efforts to get a health care bill through the Senate before Christmas, if ever.

An independent from Connecticut who sits with the Democratic caucus, Lieberman ratcheted up his public opposition to the bill Sunday. On the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Lieberman said he would join a Republican filibuster if the bill contained either a government-run public health insurance option or a proposed alternative to the controversial provision—expanding Medicare to people as young as 55.

Lieberman also called for eliminating a provision to provide long-term home health care to the disabled while adding more cost containment measures to the $848 billion Democratic bill.

“We don’t need to keep adding on to the back of this horse until the horse breaks down and we get nothing done,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman has been making such threats for months. He does it every time something in the legislation fails to please him (and, presumably, his corporate donors in Connecticut, which is insurance industry central). By now it’s pretty clear that Lieberman is enjoying his little run of absolute power over the party that abandoned him three years ago. As Ezra Klein puts it, “At this point, Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals.” And as I wrote earlier, he’ll probably get his wish.

What I want to know is precisely what Lieberman means when he says he’ll “join a Republican filibuster.” Does he just mean he’ll stand with the Republicans, thereby preventing Democrats from gaining the 60-vote majority they need for cloture? Or will Lieberman actually get up and talk? If it’s the latter, then I say let him do it.

Joe Lieberman is one of the dullest and most anemic speakers ever to make it into the national spotlight. I’ve had the misfortune to cover him through two Democratic primary campaigns, and I can’t remember a single speech, even at a brief campaign stop, where I wasn’t struggling just to stay awake. Even when Lieberman tried to liven things up, he just made matters worse: I still remember his performance in the final days before the 2004 New Hampshire primary, when he was running around telling everyone he had “Joe-mentum” (right up to the moment when he came in fifth).

The longest one-man filibuster on record is 24 hours (achieved by Strom Thurmond in 1957 to block civil rights legislation). Can you imagine Lieberman going on for even a fraction of that time? We wouldn’t need to talk about death panels any more, because we’d all die of boredom. The most famous filibuster scene of all time is fictional: Jimmy Stewart, in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, talks until he makes himself hoarse and eventually passes out from sheer exhaustion. But if Joe Lieberman were carrying the filibuster, it would be everybody else who’d pass out.

I predict that if Joe Lieberman engages in a filibuster, we will see Republicans defecting from their party to support cloture, just to shut him up. In other words, this just might be the one and only path that could lead to bipartisan health care reform.

 

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