Thursday, November 12, 2009
Letter to Lieberman: America is a Public Option
Nov. 13, 2009
Senator Joseph Lieberman
706 Hart Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
Recent news that you planned to support a Republican filibuster if the health care reform bill contained a "public option" was very disconcerting to me.
After all, as a life-long Democrat, I voted for yourself and Vice President Gore in the 2000 election. I remain convinced that it was an election of which you were robbed, setting in motion eight years of environmental degradation, preemptive war, and the abuse of our most cherished values and institutions.
All of which makes your choice of allies in this matter of the public option more perplexing. Their party filed the successful lawsuit to enjoin votes from being counted in Florida and deliver the presidential election to George W. Bush.
Your name was subsequently reduced to use in a trashy sobriquet on placards waved by rabble outside Mr. Gore's residence reading "Sore-Loserman."
I understand you've since endured some rough handling by Democrats over issues related to the Iraq war. All I can say is, you're entitled to your independence so long as you are willing to take the resulting heat.
Ours, since the debacle of Vietnam, has been the party of peace. When you decide upon hewing to a different path, the ensuing battle is of your making and not the Democratic Party's.
And for all that, you caucus with the Democrats through whom you reached your current status. They, in turn, were able to consolidate a filibuster-proof majority with your adherence.
The Republican Party is bent on defeating President Obama at any cost. Siding with them is no way to settle grievances most of us thought were smoothed over when you maintained your chairmanship of a Senate committee in spite of your support for Sen. John McCain in November 2008.
There is an amorality in your pledge to back a filibuster threatened by the party that denied you the vice presidency.
There is, senator, no two-thirds vote requirement for a measure's enactment by the Senate. Bills pass with the majority's blessing. Abuse of the filibuster has created an unfortunate state of affairs and gummed-up the nation's business, while giving a rump and regional party greater leverage than its reduced voting base warrants.
Your support of the filibuster on a matter of national importance, not parochial concern, diminishes the traditions of an institution to which you have dedicated a goodly portion of your efforts as public servant - the United States Senate.
As for the public option, the respected magazine "Miller-McCune" reports that only 10 percent of Americans could utilize the feature as presently constituted in the proposed legislation.
I'd be one of them, senator, and resent your single-handed efforts to deny me the opportunity to gain a modicum of health and economic security, through a parliamentary maneuver.
If you want to oppose reform through your vote in the Senate, that's your business, although I would disagree with that act. However, supporting a filibuster that prevents health care reform from reaching the Senate floor would be a move both anti-democratic and not unlike the lawsuit that kept Florida from doing a proper ballot count in 2000.
An issue such as reform deserves a full airing in the nation's representative bodies, not some cheap short-circuit shutdown.
I understand that Connecticut, your home state, has a high concentration of insurance companies and your are bound, in part, to represent their interests. But as the same article noted, by 2019, 168 million Americans will likely receive coverage through their employer, "no differently than they do today."
By supporting the likes of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C), you're throwing in with their Tea Partiers' interpretation that the public option represents some government takeover of health care.
It's not, because I prefer such a takeover and know it cannot be found in the the legislation.
These insurance companies are not to my, or many other Americans', liking senator. They gouge their customers and then stick them with the burden of pursuing reimbursements for treatments duly paid for through their premiums. They are an important reason the clamor for reform has accumulated lo these many decades.
Nonetheless, your colleague Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has noted that, "The bottom line is that the public option can't really hold private insurers accountable if it is only competing for 10 percent of the insurance market because private insurance companies aren't going to change their business practices if 90 percent of their customers can't take their business elsewhere."
Finally, as a policy matter, I'm advocating for the option because over the years the public space in our country has diminished and with it, our sense of engagement with one another.
America cannot prosper as a country of infinite privacies where people cultivate "My Music" and "My Videos" folders on their personal computers while walking the streets with earphones cutting them off from any awareness of the "us" and "ours" all around them.
There must be a commons, a public place and space, a civic way of being through which Americans can venture out from their gated communities and locked doors to meet and share in the life of this country. Otherwise what is the country?
The idea of America itself is a public option.
the highway scribe