Sold. Democrats prepare to hand 30 million Americans over to Big Insurance (and control of the party to Joe Lieberman)

Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama.

Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama.

Tonight, a rumpled looking (well to be fair, he’s always rumpled looking) Sherrod Brown was sent out in front of the cameras to Keith Olbermann’s show to try and sell “Countdown’s” liberal audience on how all of their hard work has produced a terrific healthcare bill, which will remain terrific even without a public insurance option to compete with the private ensurers who will now have 30 million Americans commanded by buy their products, and now, without a Medicare buy-in for those over 55. Brown didn’t look like he quite believed what he was saying.

Talking Points Memo, meanwhile, reports that perfunctory White House denials notwithstanding, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel did indeed press Harry Reid to cut a healthcare deal with Joe Lieberman, and to give him whatever he wants:

An aide briefed on discussions with the White House says that there would be no story if Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel hadn’t interceded. The aide confirmed an account, reported by Huffington Post, that Emanuel visited Reid personally, telling him to cut a deal with Lieberman.

Then the aide provided more detail.

Emanuel didn’t just leave it to Reid to find a solution. Emanuel specifically suggested Reid give Lieberman the concessions he seeks on issues like the Medicare buy-in and triggers.

“It was all about ‘do what you’ve got to do to get it done. Drop whatever you’ve got to drop to get it done,” the aide said. All of Emanuel’s prescriptions, the source said, were aimed at appeasing Lieberman–not twisting his arm.

This is the second Senate aide to provide nearly identical accounts of the White House’s intervention. It seems very much as if officials there desperately want the Senate to pass a bill, at all costs.

Lieberman, who as recently as September, proposed the very Medicare/Medicaid buy-in he now opposes, has made it clear he is prepared to kill healthcare reform, no matter what is offered to him, unless of course, what is offered is the blue plate special served by his friends in the insurance industry. Next, I suppose Harry Reid will have to strip out the pre-existing conditions reforms and the subsidies, plus the stuff about not dropping people when they’re sick. Then, perhaps, Lieberman will think about not filibustering it. The Huffpo confirms, via the stammering of Democratic Senators, that the “reform” has been stripped out of healthcare reform. And no Senator better captures how out of touch these guys are than Max Baucus:

Baucus was upbeat about the bill. “This is exciting. I hope you feel as excited as I do. This is a big deal. I mean, really, we all tend to focus on process and we tend to focus on individual provisions, which is really very important,” he said. “But it’s just huge for our country. This is going to be the biggest legislative effort that I’ve ever been involved in. And it’s going to mean more to more people, I think, than anything I’ve been involved in.”

Yep. We’re sunk.

Howard Fineman on Hardball tonight stated that from what he can determine, Lieberman is acting out of revenge, not against the White House, but against liberal Democrats, especially those in the “netroots,” who opposed him and ran him out of the primary in Connecticut. Now, he’s determined to kill anything progressives are for. And so, per TPM:

… as the Senate moves toward a vote on health care reform next week, it’s becoming apparent that even the most pro-reform senators are resigning themselves to a less-than-ideal bill and that the White House is keeping the pressure on to get a bill passed even if that means acceding to the demands of Joe Lieberman.

I wonder if the White House understands what they’ve done here? Not to answer my own question, but I get the sense that they don’t really understand how serious — and by serious, I mean seriously bad — the president’s and Congress’ situation is. (Otherwise, President Obama would not have given himself that B+, which in Harvard terms, is what you might call “grading on a curve…”) Clearly, the White House believes that just passing any healthcare bill will cause Democrats to rally round, and they must believe that average Americans will be as excited as Baucus is about “healthcare reform” that basically consists of forcing every American to purchase private insurance, under penalty of law. What, precisely, is there to sell in that? What is there to love? And what makes Rahm Emanuel, or White House political director Patrick Gaspard, for that matter, think that any rational person will laud this so-called “reform,” or accept that the White House and Reid, who must be the weakest Senate majority leader in history, allowed a single Senator — who isn’t even a Democrat — to roll the entire party, and the president?

If Reid’s “compromise” manages to limp out of the Senate, assuming Lieberman doesn’t call for more accommodation that the White House then orders Reid to hand over, sometime this month, a healthcare bill will emerge from conference, probably weak, probably with precious little to reign in either costs or the practices of the insurance giants (who will join the banks in having punked the American people through their elected representatives.) President Obama will whip out a special pen and sign that bill in a Rose Garden ceremony, surrounded by smiling Congresspeople, including, probably, Joe Lieberman. And then, during his State of the Union address, Obama will laud the bill as the achievement of a lifetime, and something that eluded six previous presidents.

I’m sure the White House team is counting on the gratitude of people who are not dropped from their policies to carry the day, and carry the party into November 2010. I’m sure the president and those compromising Senators believe (or hope) that those receiving federal subsidies will just be grateful to have insurance, and will credit Democrats for having delivered. They’ve obviously calculated that with time, the anger of liberal Democrats (whom they believe have made too much of the whole “public option” thing anyway) will subside, and the sheer magnitude of the achievement will boost the president’s approval ratings. After all, where are liberals going to turn? Sarah Palin?

The White House is free to believe that, and the political office free to advise it. But believing it doesn’t make it so. At the end of this process, my fear is that the president and his friends in the Senate will have permanently burned a bridge with the core of the people who got him elected — the most passionate part of the party — the ones who volunteer, and donate, and work, to make elections happen. And many will not come back. And since there are no Republicans for Mr. Obama to join with, because they do not want to join with him, what then? Will his coalition consist of Harry Reid and Joe Lieberman?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. President. And good luck to the vulnerable Democrats, including Reid, but extended to any of those who can be called a “moderate,” next year. The other side has passion to work with, in the form of the “Tea Party” movement. Democrats will be working from a demoralized base that’s angry too — but angry at them. I’d guess that Harry Reid, Chris Dodd and Blanche Lincoln in particular, are in greater electoral trouble tonight than they were this morning. And the Democrats’ hold on the Senate majority just got a whole lot shakier (which could, in the end, be what Joe Lieberman wants.)

Cross-posted at Open Salon.

Related: TNR’s Jonathan Chait diagnoses Lieberman as not necessarily sinister, just not that smart. And he concludes with this “only he can get away with saying this kind of thing” bit:

I suspect that Lieberman is the beneficiary, or possibly the victim, of a cultural stereotype that Jews are smart and good with numbers. Trust me, it’s not true. If Senator Smith from Idaho was angering Democrats by spewing uninformed platitudes, most liberals would deride him as an idiot. With Lieberman, we all suspect it’s part of a plan. I think he just has no idea what he’s talking about and doesn’t care to learn. Lieberman thinks about politics in terms of broad ideological labels. He’s the heroic centrist voice pushing legislation to the center. No, Lieberman doesn’t have any particular sense of what the Medicare buy-in option would do to the national debt. If the liberals like it, then he figures it’s big government and he should oppose it. I think it’s basically that simple.

UPDATE: Lanny Davis, in Politico’s Arena, excoriates Lieberman’s critics, taking the position I suspect predominates inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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