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Lieberman resists plan easing Medicare buy-ins

WASHINGTON – Risking the wrath of Democrats, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., threatened Sunday to join Republicans in opposing health care legislation if it permits uninsured individuals as young as 55 to purchase Medicare coverage.

Appearing on CBS, Lieberman said of the Medicare proposal, “Though I don’t know exactly what’s in it, from what I hear, I certainly would have a hard time voting for it because it has some of the same infirmities that the public option did.

“It will add taxpayer costs. It will add to the deficit. It’s unnecessary,” he added of a provision that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week hailed as part of a breakthrough between liberals and moderates.

Democratic aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lieberman later told Reid he would support a Republican-led filibuster against the bill if it contained the Medicare provision or permitted the government to sell insurance in competition with private companies.

The same aides added that Lieberman had responded differently last week when Reid asked him privately about the proposed Medicare provision. “He voiced support for the idea,” said one official. Lieberman’s public comments last week were also generally favorable. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to comment publicly.

While Lieberman drew most of the attention for his comments, Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Ben Nelson of Nebraska also expressed concern.

“I’m concerned that it’s the forerunner of single-payer — the ultimate single-payer plan, maybe even more directly than the public option,” Nelson said of the Medicare proposal. By single-payer, he meant national health insurance run by Washington. Unlike Lieberman, Nelson participated in negotiations last week between liberals and moderates that produced the general framework that included the Medicare provision.

“The whole reason we’re doing this bill is to bring down cost, first for the American people in health care, and secondly for the deficit,” said Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. “So until we get the numbers back from the Congressional Budget Office, we’re all on hold.”

Asked if she would vote against the bill if it raised health care costs overall, she said, “Absolutely.”



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