COMMENTS: The Independent Lieberman Hogs the Limelight

President Barack Obama's invitation to his fellow Democrats from the US Senate to come to the White House to talk healthcare reform may have supplied the photo-op for the Story of the Day. Yet only one of the 60-person caucus was in the spotlight--and he is not even a member of the President's party. Joseph Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, insisted that a pair of provisions be excluded from healthcare legislation and because all 60 votes are required to overcome the Republicans' filibuster, Sen Lieberman got what he wanted. ABC and CBS both led with Lieberman's success. NBC chose a consumer product safety story instead.

"Gone is one of the central tenets of the compromise reached last week," ABC's Jonathan Karl declared. "The expansion of Medicare is stripped out because of the objections of Joe Lieberman." Lieberman was called "the decisive 60th vote" by CBS' Chip Reid and the politician who has "suddenly become the man of the hour" by NBC's Savannah Guthrie. "Mystifying," CBS' Nancy Cordes called it. She reported that even close colleagues "were at a loss to explain his apparent about-face. After all the proposal to allow younger Americans to buy into Medicare had been crafted specifically as a compromise for Lieberman…The Connecticut senator has championed the buy-in idea for nearly a decade and reiterated his support just three months ago."

Even without an expansion of Medicare and without the so-called public option to compete with private insurance companies, Republicans are still "virtually unanimous in opposition," CBS' Reid reported. They call the Democratic argument that the bill will cut healthcare costs "nonsense." Furthermore, public opinion polls show "a majority disapprove of the bill that is now before the Senate," stated George Stephanopoulos on ABC while new opposition is forming from liberal Democrats, led by Howard Dean, the party's former chairman, ABC's Karl pointed out.

So what is left? ABC's Karl ticked off three elements: a mandate to get insured; subsidies for those with lower incomes to help buy it; and insurance regulations including a ban on denial of coverage because of preexisting conditions." NBC's Guthrie quoted the warning from Vice President Joe Biden on Morning Joe on MSNBC: "If healthcare does not pass in this Congress then it is going to be kicked back for a generation." At the White House, the President's aides told CBS' Reid "they do not have the votes."


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