What Joe Lieberman might hope to gain by killing healthcare reform

Senators don't do something for nothing. So what is Lieberman hoping to get by killing the public option?

Senators don't do something for nothing. So what is Lieberman hoping to get by killing the public option?

In politics, the name of the game is who gets what, and it’s the rare member of Congress — and usually the very rich or very safe one — who isn’t at least for rent, if not for sale. So what does Joe Lieberman want, and what is he hoping to — or expecting to — receive in exchange for emasculating the men who handed him back his gavel despite his fundamental and serial betrayals of the party that (foolishly) made him their vice presidential nominee in 2000, and gutting healthcare reform for the second time in his ignominious political career? That question has been on the minds of just about every non-winger in America today who cares about healthcare reform, and who knows that if President Obama signs a bill requiring all Americans to purchase the crappy, expensive products of a handful of private insurance giants, it will indeed be his Waterloo. There are a lot of theories out there (he’s doing it for the attention, or to boost his influence in shaping the final bill …he’s still mad at Democrats for defeating him in the primaries in 2006, he’s just a jerk…) which are well encapsulated here, including a very cogent series of “what’s in it for Joe?” mind bogglers from Nate Silver:

Would voting to filibuster the Democrats’ health care bill (if it contains a decent public option) endear Lieberman to his constituents? No; Connecticutians favor the public option 64-31.

Would it make his path to re-election easier? No, because it would virtually assure that Lieberman faces a vigorous and well-funded challenge from a credible, capital-D Democrat, and polls show him losing such a match-up badly.

Would it buy him more power in the Senate? No, because Democrats would have every reason to strip him of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee.

Is Lieberman’s stance intended to placate the special interests in his state? Perhaps this is part of it — there are a lot of insurance companies in Connecticut — but Lieberman is generally not one of the more sold-out Senators, ranking 75th out of the 100-member chamber in the percentage of his fundraising that comes from corporate PACs.

Over at Newsweek, the analysis is that Lieberman is just demonstrating how a person behaves when there’s been no price to pay for disloyalty. But there is another possibility, and it has less to do with Lieberman’s narcissism or vindictiveness or even his desire for a book deal or a Fox News show of his own (Lieberman can crack a joke, but he’s no Mike Huckabee…) The possibility I’m thinking about was articulated by LIsa Richardson today in the LA Times: Joe Lieberman is not running for re-election in 2012. What he’s doing right now can rightly be called “securing his golden parachute.”Richardson speculates:

Lieberman, who isn’t seeking office again, doesn’t care if most people in Connecticut want a public option. Nor does he care if most people in America want it. He doesn’t care if he shoots down healthcare reform entirely and destroys the best hope for reform in decades.

And nor should he. Because a deal is a deal, people! And if the citizens of Connecticut aren’t his constituents, and the people of America aren’t either — after all, he isn’t seeking another Senate term — that just leaves the insurance companies.

There are senators who get more from the industry — John McCain for one, and even then-Sen. Barack Obama received quite a bit of cash support back in the day. But I like to think that Joe’s relationship is special.

If he rigs the game so that all Americans have to purchase insurance but insurance companies don’t have any competition, surely he will have surpassed the industry’s wildest expectations. Five’ll get you ten he finds a cushy landing at Aetna or Cigna or some other insurance giant when he’s out of office. A

It’s speculation, to be sure, but intriguing nonetheless. Members of Congress earn $174,000 plus pretty generous health and retirement benefits. But that’s nothing compared to what the huge business interests they genuflect to haul in. For example, Ron Williams, the CEO of Aetna, one of the many insurance companies headquartered in Lieberman’s home state, earned $24,300,112 in total compensation last year. That’s nearly 140 times Lieberman’s salary, more than 24 times the total amount Lieberman has hauled in from the insurance industry over his entire Senate career, and more than 6.6 times his lifetime take from the health sector overall. Lieberman’s net worth, which is pegged at somewhere between $766,075 and $2,668,000, makes him the 54th richest Senator out of 100. Not exactly Jay Rockefellar. And since his last book deal was back in 2001, there’s precious little out there that could give Traitor Joe a strong, swift boost into a cozy retirement. Unless … unless he supports the underdog presidential contender, and John McCain wins, opening the way for Lieberman to become a high ranking cabinet member, giving him more access, and potentially unlimited future income opportunities … or failing that (and it did fail, you’ll recall) … Lieberman could bet it all with the big insurance companies, and go out like Dick Armey or Mel Martinez.

See … Democrats quit the Senate to join think tanks … Republicans quit to become lobbyists (or Facebook nags with mega-book deals and six-figure speaking deals) but no matter how you slice it, when members of Congress leave office for good, those who aren’t Kennedys or Pelosis or Rockefellars do it hoping to finally make some real money. Why should Joe be any different?

I reached out to both Lieberman’s Connecticut and Washington offices to inquire whether the Senator has signaled his intention to run for re-election — or not to — in 2012, and whether he has talked to anyone in the insurance industry about a job. Both offices are on voicemail (wouldn’t you be?) Now, we wait. If Lieberman has an insurance industry or insurance lobbying job offer on the table, he won’t be able to keep it secret forever.


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4 Responses to What Joe Lieberman might hope to gain by killing healthcare reform

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