(Updated 7:11 p.m.) While U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman seems to be torpedoing the Democrats’ attempt at passing health care reform with a public option or Medicare expansion in Washington D.C. his former supporters back home in Connecticut are frustrated and confused by his recent positions on the bill.
John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, told a panel of state lawmakers and health care advocates Thursday that he was confused, frustrated, and angry by Lieberman’s recent pronouncements.
Olsen, who supported Lieberman during his 2006 primary battle against Ned Lamont, said in 1995 Lieberman talked about the “tyranny of the minority” in the U.S. Senate, but now is joining that minority to filibuster health care reform.
Then Olsen wondered what would happen if a member of Lieberman’s own family didn’t have health insurance and it was a matter of life or death.
“Then would he take these positions,” Olsen wondered out loud.
Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, asked Olsen if he had talked to Lieberman.
“I’ve got his cellphone,” Olsen said. “But the Senator might get the message quicker if I put it on television or in the newspapers.”
Olsen said he’s had six meetings with Lieberman and his staff over the past month.
“I have no sense of why the Senator would do this,” Olsen said.
Prague told Olsen that when he talks to Lieberman to tell him, “I want my vote back.”
Meanwhile, Olsen, who lined up the union votes back in 2006 to get Lieberman the endorsement, said today he’s left scratching his head trying to “figure out where his constituency is,“ because it’s certainly not with the Democrats on the left, but it’s also not with the Tea Party movement on the right of the political spectrum.
Lieberman has said in various interviews with media organizations that he’s concerned about the national deficit when it comes to health care reform. First he denounced the government-run public option, and just recently said he couldn’t support an expansion of Medicare to those 55 and older.
Olsen said Lieberman wasn’t talking about the deficit when he supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said with all due respect to the troops, more people are dying because they don’t have health care.
“If we can deficit spend for terrorists, then we can deficit spend for health care,” Olsen concluded.
Gerald Shea, assistant to the president of external affairs for the national AFL-CIO, told the panel of lawmakers and advocates Thursday that both the House and the Senate bill decrease the deficit by $130 billion over 10 years. He said outside estimates put that number at $450 billion over 10 years.
Shea, a health care expert with the AFL-CIO, said the union feels a very big responsibility to its membership to “make the best and the most out of this situation.”
He said the trick is going to be merging the House and the Senate bills in conference committee. When the final bill emerges the Senate will still need 60 votes to pass it, which means the public option and the expansion of Medicare will not be included since Lieberman, the crucial 60th vote, doesn‘t support it.
Over the past few weeks the Senate bill has taken a “very dire turn,” when the public option was eliminated, but the AFL-CIO still believes there are reforms and regulations in the bill worth fighting for, Shea said.
“Senator Lieberman has done mortal damage to any significant public option,” Shea said.
But he said that’s no reason to give up fighting to get a bill passed. He said there are aspects of the Senate bill, specifically cost containment, which are actually stronger than the House bill.
“The Senate bill is another marker on our long journey to health reform,” Connecticut AARP executive director Brenda Kelly said Thursday in a conference call. She said AARP has not endorsed every aspect of the Senate bill, but will continue to work with Senators on both sides of the aisle to help shape what comes out of the conference committee.
“All the good things in the Senate bill will be for not if we do not get a vote for cloture, so we can move forward,” Kelly said.
When asked what she was doing about Lieberman Kelly said, “I find it hard to believe Lieberman would want a legacy of stopping health care reform.”
But Kevin Galvin, head of the Small Businesses for Health Care Reform, said he’s had a hard time getting in touch with Connecticut’s junior Senator.
“We are particularly frustrated with Senator Lieberman’s lack of interest or caring in getting back to his constituents, including us, with any kind of discussion or reason for his positions of late,” Galvin said. “He is absolutely not answering our phone calls.”
Olsen said he would be reaching out to Lieberman again today to talk to him about the issue.
And while it’s still uncertain if Lieberman will seek reelection in 2012, Olsen said at the moment “he wouldn’t have my vote.”