Exiting a caucus meeting this evening, Democratic Senators said that they were prepared to drop the Medicare buy-in to break the political impasse over the provision--a change that may be enough to win over Joe Lieberman. Jay Rockefeller, one of the health reform's leading liberal advocates, was adamant about describing the merits that the bill would have even without a public option compromise. "There are 500 things, and you take this one out, and you ask…could it have been better? Yeah. But it could have been so much worse if we decided not to do anything about it," Rockefeller said tonight. "We’re not going to get all that we want, but we’re going to get so much more than we have."
The caucus meeting happened hours after news broke that the White House was pressuring Reid and the Senate leadership to reach a deal with Lieberman. While the Connecticut Senator wasn’t among those who spoke during this evening's caucus meeting, Rockefeller defended Lieberman’s recent threat to filibuster a bill with the Medicare buy-in as a exercise of his rights as a legislator. "Anybody has the right to do that--I’m not saying it a good thing…I’ve never done it. Maybe I should have," Rockefeller said. "I don’t attack him, as I wouldn’t attack myself. "
Rockefeller added that there were, in fact, other aspects of the reform bill in which Lieberman was playing a constructive role, including the West Virginia senator’s cherished project to strengthen the independent Medicare payment commission. "I and my staff are working very closely with Lieberman on MedPac on steroids which is the real game-changer in the bill," Rockefeller said, adding that he was also collaborating closely with Ben Nelson on insurance regulatory reform.
On the whole, Rockefeller’s comments suggested that the Senate Democrats are probably willing to give in to Lieberman’s demands to get his votes--and that Reid wasn’t going to spend much more time striking bargains with other potential swing votes, like Snowe or Collins, telling the caucus today that he may push for a vote on the final passage of the bill as soon as this weekend. "[Reid] may want to vote for it on Saturday," Rockefeller said.
He added that liberal advocates could try again another year to push for the reforms that didn’t make it into the current bill. "You know we’re going to be back next year, and the year after that, and the year after that." If Democrats had been making such remarks months ago, they might have been written off as a total concession to a spineless, incremental approach to reform. But this late in the legislative process, they seem to indicate that Senate Democrats should take all they can get politically--and not get hung up on what gets left behind--for the sake of simply getting the bill passed this year.
Suzy Khimm is a senior editor at The New Republic.