Letting Lieberman Off the Hook.

The big news coming out of the Sunday shows is that Joe “with Democrats on everything but the war” Lieberman told Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation that he is so vehemently opposed to the inclusion of a public option in health-care reform that he would join Republicans in their filibuster of the bill if it contains the provision. When Schieffer noted that that would mean no reform at all, Lieberman happily proclaimed that he would prefer no reform to reform that included the public option.

While we can thank Schieffer for helping to clarify things, this was one more missed opportunity of the kind we see nearly every Sunday. If Schieffer had bothered to challenge Lieberman on the blizzard of misinformation he spewed out in those few minutes, he would have exposed the hollowness of Lieberman’s arguments. But as is usually the case, all the questions he asked were about the politics of reform.

We’re not surprised when Republicans who have no goal other than to kill reform and see President Obama fail come out with lie after lie about health care in general and the public option in particular. But Lieberman has plenty of incentives running in the other direction. He comes from an extremely Democratic state, and he maintains his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee because Democrats are kind enough to let him -- presumably because he won’t do things like, say, join a Republican filibuster of the most important domestic legislation of the president’s term. Nevertheless, when he starts to talk about health care, Lieberman sounds indistinguishable from the typical disingenuous GOP shill.

Among the baloney that Lieberman sneezed all over Schieffer:

  • He said a public option would “hurt the economic recovery.” The public option, and the rest of health-care reform, won’t take effect until 2013.
  • He said including a public option will “end up causing the government to raise taxes, will probably raise premiums, or it will put us further into debt.” The legislation mandates that the public option be paid for entirely by premiums, so it can’t cause the government to raise taxes or take on more debt. As for the public option “rais[ing] premiums,” if Lieberman has an explanation for how it is supposed to lead private insurers to raise their premiums, I’d sure like to hear it. Some argue that competition from the public option will lead insurers to lower their premiums, while others are skeptical. But this is the first time I’ve heard anyone suggest what Lieberman did, because it is simply nonsense.
  • He said “The public option I think was raised in the last year by people who really want to have a government-controlled health insurance system.” Actually, there were versions of the public option in the plans proposed during the 2008 campaign by Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.

You don’t have to be a health-care wonk to know that these things are false. All you have to be is informed on the debate that is currently gripping Washington. But Schieffer challenged Lieberman on none of his claims -- in fact, Schieffer didn't ask him a single substantive question during their discussion about health care.

If hosting a Sunday talk show were your job, and you were going to be interviewing a senator and asking him about the public option, don’t you think it would behoove you to bone up a bit on the facts? And when the senator comes on and puts this kind of crap out to your viewers, don’t you have a responsibility to call him on it?

Apparently not.

-- Paul Waldman

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