The White House is encouraging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to cut a deal with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which would mean eliminating the proposed Medicare expansion in the health reform bill, according to an official close to the negotiations.
But Reid is described as so frustrated with Lieberman that he is not ready to sacrifice a key element of the health care bill, and first wants to see the Congressional Budget Office cost analysis of the Medicare buy-in. The analysis is expected early this week.
"There is a weariness and a lot of frustration that one person is holding up the will of 59 others," the official said. “There is still too much anger and confusion at one particular senator’s reversal.”
The White House denied that it was pressuring Reid to cut a deal with Lieberman and said there was no difference of opinion about how to move forward on reform.
“The report is inaccurate,” said White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer in a statement. “The White House is not pushing Senator Reid in any direction. We are working hand-in-hand with the Senate leadership to work through the various issues and pass health reform as soon as possible.”
Lieberman threw health care reform into doubt Sunday when he told Reid that he would filibuster the bill if it allowed Americans ages 55 to 64 to purchase coverage in Medicare. His comments on CBS’s “Face the Nation” set off a series of private meetings Sunday between the Senate leadership and top White House aides, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who recommended that Reid to cut the deal with Lieberman, the official said.
Reid has called a special Democratic caucus meeting for 5:30 p.m. Monday. And President Barack Obama invited the caucus to a meeting Tuesday at the White House.
</b> If they still hope to pass a bill by Christmas – which is still a top consideration at the moment — Democrats have only limited options:</b>
• Reach an agreement with Lieberman, which would mean stripping out the provisions that have kept progressives on board. This will likely cause problems on the left – maybe even defections – unless the White House steps in to persuade senators such as Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
• Win over Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) , but she has also voiced serious reservations about the Medicare expansion, and has resisted pressure from the White House and Senate Democrats to finish the bill by Christmas.
Reconciliation, a procedural maneuver to get around a filibuster, remains on the table, but it’s not a viable option at the moment , the official said. It would push the issue into next year with no guarantee of success.
Democrats are frustrated because they believe Lieberman keeps moving the goal posts. He supported the Medicare buy in the 2000 presidential campaign, and in September reiterated support for the plan in an interview with the Connecticut Post.
Lieberman has denied giving his approval of the Medicare buy-in during the negotiations last week among a group of 10 moderate and liberal senators.
"Contrary to the claims of anonymous aides, Senator Lieberman told Reid on Friday that he had problems with the Medicare provision," Lieberman spokesman Marshall Wittman said in a statement.
"This position was also told to negotiators earlier in the week. Consequently, Senator Lieberman's position came as no surprise to the Democratic leadership. Any contrary charge by aides who cowardly seek to hide under the cloak of anonymity is false and self-serving," he added.
Wittman issued the statement in response to reports that Lieberman, according to anonymous Senate Democratic aides, had initially indicated support for a proposal allowing uninsured individuals as young as 55 to purchase Medicare coverage.
Story has been denied by the White House but independently confirmed by TPM and Daily Kos. Not that it matters but here's a video of Lieberman endorsing a Medicare buy in, as well. Meanwhile, John McCain has an opinion.