Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced on Tuesday that he would vote to sustain a filibuster of health care legislation unless changes were made to the final product. The senator did say he would allow the measure to be debated on the floor of the Senate. But his unwillingness to ultimately support a cloture motion would likely result in the removal of a national public option from the legislative language.
By positioning himself as a major parliamentary hurdle to Democratic leadership, Lieberman is, undoubtedly, inviting an avalanche of admonishment from the party that made him a vice presidential candidate just nine years ago. He's also opening himself up to charges of political hypocrisy.
On at least three previous occasions, Lieberman has voted to stop a filibuster attempt on a bill that he ultimately opposed.
In March 2005, the senator joined 55 Republicans and 13 Democrats in backing cloture on a bill that made several significant changes to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, chief among them making it more difficult to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act ended up passing the Senate by a vote of 74 to 25, with Lieberman in the opposition.
In September 2006, Lieberman did the same thing. The senator voted to invoke cloture on The Secure Fence Act, which would have used advanced technologies -- including unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras -- to create "operational control of the borders." The bill would pass by a vote of 80 to 19, with Lieberman joining many of the Democratic Party's more progressive members in voting nay.
In April 2007, Lieberman again granted a parliamentary pass to a bill that he ultimately opposed. The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act would have funded troops in Iraq provided that certain demands be made of the Iraqi government and that a timeline be implemented for the removal of U.S. forces. The bill ended up being passed by a vote of 51 to 46, with Lieberman voting against it, only to be vetoed by then President George W. Bush.
In the latter case, at the very least, cloture did not present a difficult vote. Ninety-seven senators, including Lieberman, let the bill proceed to the floor of the Senate -- a margin that the current piece of health care legislation being considered by the Senate will never receive.
But Lieberman is on record as opposing the use of a filibuster on legislation he would later oppose. In the case of a public option, however, he seems to be digging in his heels and using parliamentary procedures to hold the process hostage.
"I told Senator Reid that I'm strongly inclined -- I haven't totally decided, but I'm strongly inclined -- to vote to proceed to the health care debate, even though I don't support the bill that he's bringing together because it's important that we start the debate on health care reform because I want to vote for health care reform this year," Lieberman told reporters on Monday. "But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill."