POLITICS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lieberman Closer To Supporting Reform, But Not There Yet

One day after he single-handedly killed off a provision to expand Medicare, Sen. Joseph Lieberman is still not promising to support the Democratic health reform bill -- though he told reporters Tuesday that he is getting closer.

"I'm getting to the position where I can say what I wanted to say all along, that I'm ready to vote for health care reform," he said. The Connecticut independent said he was pleased with concessions made by Democratic leadership and was hopeful that nothing additional would be added.

Lieberman also offered up a lengthy explanation for why he is now opposed to a provision he championed as recently as three months ago: a proposal to allow those as young as 55 to buy into Medicare

"I did not change my mind on Medicare buy-in," he said. "And I know this is a classic sort of sport here. Although it is not terrible to change one's mind if in fact you do. I do not want to spend too much time on this. In the 2000 campaign, when I was privileged to be Al Gore's running mate, the party platform was to suggest one way to improve health care was to allow 55- to 65-year-olds to buy into Medicare. That is a very stressed age group when you don't have insurance. But a lot of things have changed in nine years. The first is that in 2000, the federal government was in surplus and paying off the debt, not having increased the debt enormously. Secondly, Medicare wasn't on the verge of imminent bankruptcy, which it is now. And third, there was not a bill on the floor such as the one on the floor now, that would extend very generous subsidies to those 55- and 65-year-olds to enable them to buy insurance and reduce the impact of age in the pricing of insurance policies. So things changed a lot....

"And in the Connecticut Post interview [three months ago] I finally got to see that on TV last night and it looked to me like I was referring back to things I had supported in the past to make the point that though I was against the public option, I was not against health care reform," he said. "And, of course, I did that before the Finance Committee bill came out with this very large and again, I'd say, generous -- but I support it -- system of subsidies to bring basically lower and middle income people into the health insurance system."

Lieberman concluded that the "Medicare buy-in as proposed didn't make sense....

"It seems to me when advocates for the public option saw they didn't have the votes for the public option they tried to go down another path."

The Senator's argument has several holes in it -- most notably that it would exacerbate the financial strain already on the government-run program. A CBO study has looked into the idea of expanding Medicare for 62-to-64-year olds and concluded that the premiums these people would pay would actually help the system's solvency. Also, Medicare is not "on the verge of imminent bankruptcy." As currently configured, the program is expected to have depleted its reserved around 2017, which is very different.

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