Somewhere in America today is a man between the age of 55 and 64 who will die next year because he can’t afford health insurance. Actually, there are many men and women in this situation but let’s just focus on one of them. This man has been watching the healthcare reform debate all year very intensely, filled with hope thanks to Obama and a wide democratic majority that promises to make healthcare affordable to everyone. His hopes were originally pinned on the public option, an alternative to private insurance that would have made it possible for him to get the level of care he needed. As the prospects of actually getting this passed have waxed and waned over these last few months he has been riding an emotional roller-coaster. When Joe Lieberman said he would filibuster the bill if it included a public option, things looked very grim. But then it was announced that the compromise would be a Medicare buy-in for those between 55 and 64—something that might not help everyone but would almost certainly be enough to save his life. For a moment, it seemed he had a chance.
But then Joe Lieberman noticed that too many progressives were too happy with the idea of a Medicare buy-in, and decided that he wasn’t going to let the bill pass if this was included either. As a result, this man will die. His wife won’t get to grow old with him. His kids will be robbed of his presence and influence for the rest of their lives. His grandchildren will have no memory of him.
True story. Maybe it’s in the future tense, but we all know something like this will happen. Joe Lieberman knows it too. He knows that thousands of Americans’ lives hang in the balance when it comes to healthcare, and that the weaker the final legislation is, the more people will die.
Joe Lieberman is not the president of the United States. He’s just one of 100 senators. But thanks to a well-intentioned yet disastrous rule of senate procedure known as the filibuster, he now has the entire health-care reform bill in his shameless and corrupt hands. How did this happen?
I think anyone reading this probably knows what a filibuster is, but let’s just review for a moment. Senators can continue debating a piece of legislation endlessly until a “cloture” motion passes and brings the bill up for a final vote. Cloture requires 60 votes. For most of the history of the senate, cloture was a mere matter of procedure and was generally always agreed to unanimously, thus making the threshold to pass legislation 51 votes—a majority. That makes sense. As long as you ignore the fact that every state, no matter how big, gets exactly two senators and we are therefore already unequally represented in our government, you can imagine that we have a majority rule in this country and the basic principle at the heart of democracy is honored.
But ever since the democrats took the majority, the republicans have been using the filibuster not just in extreme cases, but for practically every single piece of legislation that comes through. Which means in order for anything—anything at all—to get passed in the senate, it requires a 60-vote supermajority. That’s right, even if they wanted to pass a bill to give candy to children, it would take 60 votes to do so. Even if 75% of Americans support it, even if 59 senators supported it, the legislation would fail as long as a single senator decided he didn’t like it. Quite a system we’ve got.
So here we are in this insane situation where the Democratic Party, the party in which most of the members actually want to fix the broken healthcare system in this country, has exactly 60 senators in their caucus. Which means that if just one senator decides to hold out, he can basically demand anything he wants in exchange for his cloture vote. And if what he wants is to essentially kill the bill by making it so weak that its only beneficiaries will be the health insurance companies that are already literally making a killing off the misery of the American people, he can do that because the rest of his party can see no better option.
I don’t know if Joe Lieberman was born without the capacity to feel shame, if he lost it somewhere along the way, or if Aetna purchased it from him for a few pieces of silver, but he has decided to be that one senator who kills the bill. And by killing the bill, he is effectively killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of Americans.
And for what? His concern about the deficit? His worry that the national debt will go from eight gazillion to nine gazillion? The idea that it’s unfair to force private insurance companies to compete with any government program? What is it exactly that is more important than saving lives?
Well, when you consider that he’s given a different reason for opposing the legislation every week that goes by, you start to think that maybe he’s not acting in good faith. Actually, it’s obvious that he’s not acting in good faith. All the evidence you need is right here—this video from merely three months ago in which Lieberman endorses the idea of allowing 55-64 year olds to buy-in to Medicare. When he made his bullshit stand against the public option, progressive democrats acquiesced, dropping the public option for a plan that they knew Lieberman had to support because he endorsed it as recently as three months ago.
But surprise surprise—now he’s against it. And the reason he gave, according to his interview in the New York Times, is that he noticed some progressives were “overly enthusiastic” about this new compromise. Liberals like Anthony Wiener and Sherrod Brown were apparently all too happy about the Medicare buy-in deal because it actually was better than the weak, watered-down, toothless public option that had emerged from all those previous compromises. The Medicare buy-in, at that point, seemed like actually gaining ground.
But Joe couldn’t let that happen. He just couldn’t sit back and let progressives feel even the slightest twinge of satisfaction. After all, they didn’t strongly support him when he ran for president in 2004, even though he was next-in-line because he’d been the V.P. pick in 2000. And they didn’t aggressively support him during his senate re-election campaign in 2006 either, forcing him to run as a third-party candidate. Well, now it’s payback time.
And he sure seems to be enjoying it, doesn’t he? Every time you see his smug, sadistic face these days (and it’s everwhere, isn’t it?) he’s wearing a huge smile. He’s just so happy with all the power and attention he’s getting you can tell he’s having the time of his life. Already in the pocket of insurance companies, he now gets to be their Number One guy, their biggest asset in Washington, which means lots and lots of cash when all this is over. Even if he loses his seat in 2012, the puppet-masters at Aetna will make sure he’s well taken care of after all he’s done for them. And the icing on the cake? He gets to watch those damned liberals fuming with frustration, unable to raise a hand against him because they need him, unable to stop him from destroying everything they’ve been working so hard for throughout the year. He seems to feed on their anger, making him stronger and happier, encouraging him to go further and further until there’s nothing left in the bill but a provision forcing everyone to buy completely unregulated private insurance and throwing them in jail if they don’t.
Of course, the democrats would probably still pass that bill and claim victory, and Obama will knock-up his self-given “solid B+” for the year to an A. But ranting against Obama and the democrats is for another time. Right now I want to speak directly to Joe Lieberman:
Joe. Can I call you Joe? Okay, good. Joe—fuck you. Seriously. You are a fucking disgrace, Joe. I want to ask “How do you sleep at night?” but I can tell you sleep quite well. And knowing that you sleep soundly at night keeps me up at night, because if anyone deserves to be tossing and turning and tortured by doubts and moral uncertainties, it’s you. You supported a Medicare buy-in which would have at least done some serious good for people 55-64, but now you oppose it because of your petty personal bullshit?
You are the worst kind of slime in Washington. I thought Dick Cheney was bad, but you might just be worse. At least Dick Cheney had some principles. Totally sick, twisted, evil principles but at least they were something. You, on the other hand, care about nothing and nobody but yourself. Given the choice between doing something good for your country and watching your political opponents squirm purely for your own sick pleasure, you chose the latter. People will die—they will die, Joe—so that you could have a few laughs at your colleagues’ expense. You really sicken me.
I mean, you literally make me sick. Whenever I stop to think about what must be going on in that twisted little brain of yours, I want to vomit in horror. It’s not that you’re the only piece of shit on Capitol Hill that places your own self-interest above the good of the country (there’s an entire party of people like that), it’s that you really seem to take pleasure in it. Every time I see you on the news or online I just want to reach through the screen and knock you hard in the jaw with a pair of brass knuckles. Anything to wipe that demented smile off your face.
Your smile offends me, Joe, because I know what it means. It means you’re getting away with murder. Yes, murder. The taking of another life with malice aforethought. Maybe not directly, but it’s still murder when you display a reckless disregard for human life. And you know, you know damned well, that your filibustering will lead to people’s deaths. Everyone who would have lived because of a public option is already doomed to death because of you. Now everyone who would have lived because of the Medicare buy-in will die because of you. And you know this. You proposed the Medicare buy-in yourself, so you know the good it could do! And you oppose it now because liberals are too enthusiastic about it?
Well, what makes liberals enthusiastic? Legislation that will save lives. Because unlike you, Joe, many people in congress actually are acting in good faith out of a sense of responsibility to the American people. They want health-care reform not purely out of a desire to win political points, but because they’ve talked to people who desperately need it and when it looks like they’re close to getting it, they think of those people who will be helped by it, whose lives may be saved by it, and they get enthusiastic. But Joe can’t have that, can he? If at the end of this process any liberal feels the least bit satisfied with what they’ve done, Joe won’t be happy. He won’t be happy until progressives are completely disgusted with the legislation they’re passing.
How much more damage will you do in the mean-time, Joe? It seems that they’ve already bent over backwards to try and paint this in a positive light. They may be more honest than you, but when it comes down to it they need to be able to claim some kind of victory. So now even those who fought hard for the public option are reduced to hollow talking-points like, “Well, it’s a start. It’s still going to help a lot of people, and we’ll keep fighting” and so on. Worst is, when it comes to you, they still insist that “Joe Lieberman is a good public servant with legitimate concerns about the bill” even though this is completely transparent bullshit.
Now you’re saying you’ll have to take a closer look at the bill to see if there’s anything else you’d like removed before you can agree to vote for it. Which basically means whenever Aetna decides to let you vote for it. And that means we can kiss all our hopes of any kind of positive health-care reform down the drain. And it means that lots and lots of people who would have otherwise lived are going to die.
If only there was anyone in Washington with a spine who would call you out on this. If only anyone at all was willing to stand up and call bullshit, because that’s exactly what this is. Sadly, the democrats are in this position because they’ve let themselves get here, and now they’ve decided that getting anything passed, even something so terrible that it won’t help anyone at all, is better than letting this process drag on into an election year. So they’ve handed you all this power and allowed you to abuse it. They’ve put all these lives in your hands and allowed you to destroy them.
Fuck you, Joe. And fuck this system of government. It’s beyond disgraceful—it’s infuriating. For anyone still hoping for change, it’s looking like torches and pitchforks are the only “public option” we have left.