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Roginsky: The Lieberman Opt-Out

Joe Lieberman is one angry man. Angry that six years after he was the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2000, Connecticut Democrats turned on him and endorsed Ned Lamont as their senate nominee. Angry that national Democrats, alongside whom he had served for years, endorsed Lamont once he became the Democratic nominee over Lieberman, their colleague. Angry enough that he retaliated against the Democratic Party by endorsing John McCain for president in 2008 and angry enough that he toyed with switching parties if he did not get to keep his committee chairmanship in 2009.

Joe Lieberman (CT -D)
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Joe Lieberman (CT -D)

Now in an a new fit of pique, Lieberman has threatened to join a filibuster of a health care plan that includes a public option, even if there is a state opt-out provision. His ostensible reasons for joining Republicans in killing health care reform is his concern that Congress is “trying to do too much at once” and that a public option would spell trouble for the growing national debt.

Since the first President Roosevelt ran on a national health insurance plan nearly a century ago, Lieberman’s contention that Congress is moving too quickly is specious at best. When Lieberman was not yet in school, President Truman argued that heath care reform was a national economic imperative. Al Gore, Lieberman’s old running mate, was part of an administration that tried to overhaul health care reform fifteen years ago.

While Lieberman enjoys one of the most expansive health care plans available, courtesy of the taxpayers, the same cannot be said for nearly 10% of his constituents in Connecticut who have no access to health insurance. If something is not done to address the spiraling costs and lack of access to health care, that number will continue to grow. And yet, Lieberman believes Congress is moving too fast while the number of uninsured in his state and across the nation continues to skyrocket.

Lieberman’s second argument, that a public option will burden the national debt, is even more ridiculous. A recent Congressional Budget Office analysis showed that the House bill with a more robust public option than the one opposed by Lieberman would actually lower the deficit within the next decade.

In fact, projections earlier this year showed that rising health care costs will consume more than a third of our GDP in 20 years if Lieberman has his way and health care reform is defeated. Without a public option, insurance oligopolies will continue to exist without any competition or incentive to hold down costs for consumers. Insurance premiums for families have increased by over 130% since Lieberman ran for national office in large part precisely because insurers have no competitive incentive to hold down costs.

A cynic, of course, might assume that Lieberman knows full well the historic and economic imperatives of meaningful health care reform. Connecticut just happens to be home to over 70 insurance companies and despite his denials, it could be that Lieberman is carrying their water. Protecting hometown industry is commendable. Protecting lives and the nation’s fiscal health is even better.

On this issue, Lieberman is out of step with the very people he was elected to represent. A recent poll showed that almost two-third of all Americans support a public option to compete with private insurance. Lieberman is on the wrong side of history, on the wrong side of fiscal policy policy and on the wrong side of the vast majority of Americans. Some of them may even be Connecticut voters.

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Julie Roginsky is a CNBC contributor who has extensive experience in government, politics and public relations on both the federal and state levels including serving as the Washington communications director for former Senator Jon Corzine.