The strategy of imposing costs

Harry Reid may have to give in to blackmail from Lieberman and Snowe. But he should make them pay a price.

It looks as if there’s going to be no alternative to caving in to Joe Lieberman’s blackmail if we want a heath care bill.   And having done so, Reid won’t even have an excuse to kick Lieberman out of the caucus.  Nor is it clear that he’d want to; just this week Lieberman was the 60th vote for cloture on the debt ceiling extension.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember what he did, or that revenge is a dish which persons of taste prefer to consume cold.

Hadassah Lieberman makes a lot of money lobbying for Aetna. Joe Lieberman gets a ton of campaign contributions from Aetna.   I don’t know whether that connection explains Lieberman’s subservience to the interests of the health insurance industry, but Aetna no doubt thinks it’s buying influence with Holy Joe.

In addition to its interest in policies general to insurers, Aetna no doubt has lots of particular interests:  lots of things it wants the Congress to do, or not do.  If I were Harry Reid, I’d make sure that, from now on, Aetna loses on every single one of those issues, and I’d tell Aetna why.

Related thought:   If the only reason we need Lieberman’s vote is because Olympia Snowe doesn’t want to play.  Fine.  Reid should figure out some provision Snowe really, really wants in the bill, or doesn’t want in the bill, and tell her that if she forces to deal with Lieberman that provision is going to come out the way she doesn’t want it to come out.

The kind of stunt Lieberman and Snowe are pulling shouldn’t be free.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

36 thoughts on “The strategy of imposing costs”

  1. In the words of one of my brilliant grad school professors: Really? Doesn't the fact that Reid, et al. need Joe's vote for this imply that they might need his vote again in the future? It seems to me that this sort of Klingon/Sicilian dish may only be served once there is no question of cloture.

  2. You really are quite vicious, aren't you? Isn't it conventional to at least pretend that the federal budget is something more than a giant slush fund with which to reward political supporters, and punish those who don't toe the line?

  3. It's laughable for someone who criticizes passionate defense of principal to be upset by craven moderation. It's tone deaf to not realize that not being willing to draw a line is what leads you to having to deal with the Lieberman's of the world with no recourse and no actual benefit.

  4. Brett, in principle I'm tempted to agree with you: legislation should be made on its merits, and not be used to dole out punishments or rewards to individuals.

    Still, we're in a weird situation: the entire Republican caucus has decided not to work either on its own or with any Democrats towards the enactment of any legislation whatsoever, and has made no serious counterproposals or compromises when the Democrats try. How absurd is it that the R's didn't have any health care proposal of their own that could be reported with a straight face, one that they could then dare the Dems to adopt? And, much more seriously, Lieberman has shown that he has no actual policy interests whatsoever. He went to the wall yesterday to block an idea he himself proposed in September. Given that you can't make deals with lying slime like Lieberman on the merits of the policies involved, what do you see as the way forward?

  5. I love the idea, but there is one fatal flaw. It assumes that Harry Reid actually has a pair of balls. If the last 6 months isn't proof of the negative, then I don't know what is.

  6. The "weird situation" that the opposing party is functioning as an opposing party justifies using the federal budget to punish anybody who hires a relative of somebody in Congress who won't toe the line?

  7. I would hope that he would do it in writing, but that it isn't public before next November. I'd like him to lose before he's indicted. Thuggish I'd come to expect from you, but this is too far.

  8. Brett,

    While Hadassah Lieberman has some health policy chops, do you really believe that Aetna hired her for those abilities or for a direct line to Senator Lieberman?

    There is such a thing as the appearance of impropriety, and this certainly has the appearance of impropriety. I'm sure that Senator Lieberman would never change his mind about expanding Medicare because Hadassah communicated Aetna's displeasure about such a move. I'm sure that Senator Lieberman simply misspoke a few months ago when he said he thought allowing persons 55 (or even 50) to buy in to Medicare would be an acceptable solution to that portion of our health finance crisis. I'm sure that Senator Lieberman has always felt that government involvement in health care finance is a Bad Idea.

    I'm equally sure that a fine, upstanding company like Aetna would never hire someone to lobby in their corporate interests, because what's good for our society is obviously what is best for Aetna. Or did I get that backwards? What's best for Aetna is necessarily good for our society.

  9. Lieberman has finally annoyed me sufficiently that I don't really want to defend him any more.

    However I remain equally aggravated with the "progressives" who decided to go after him without actually having thought through things like, you know, whether they could actually win in the general election. And if anything they're even more annoyingly sanctimonious than he is.

  10. Brett, the role of an opposing party isn't just to say "No" to everything. It's to present an alternative view of government, to pursue policy goals often different from those of the governing party. Normally, this means there's some theoretical possibility of reaching common ground or making compromise. If there's nothing they'll say "Yes" to, then they might as well stay home with their families and leave behind a cardboard cutout with a speech bubble saying "No".

  11. Warren, "and has made no serious counterproposals", where "serious" is defined as, "something MY party would like to do", pretty much guts the complaint. I agree there's nothing, in this particular context, the Democratic party would like, that they'd say yes to. That says as much about the Democratic party, as the Republican.

    Oh, and I agree, Hadassah Lieberman, like any other close relative to a high up politician, has probably been mostly hired with an eye to influencing Lieberman. It's no accident people get elected to Congress, and mysteriously become millionaires. It still doesn't change the implications of openly saying, "If you hire a relative of a member of Congress who doesn't do what we say, we'll use the federal budget to punish you!"; What we've got here is a clearcut case of advocating using the federal budget as a political slush fund. Which happens anyway, but going from doing this sort of crap covertly, to openly advocating it, is another step in the direction of becoming a banana republic.

  12. Brett, many months after it was promised, and freed by the certainty it wouldn't pass, the R leadership halfheartedly put out a mockery of a plan that the experts said does nothing to help anyone.

  13. Meanwhile, the R criticisms have been absurd and false (death panels, deficits, commies) and they haven't come forward to back any part of any real plan. Bennett even refused to endorse Wyden-Bennett.

  14. The problem is that Lieberman and his ilk are opposing important parts of the President's signature accomplishment based on lies. He isn't opposing those things for any other reason than Aetna's desires. His position as the 60th vote on many issues gives him lots of power under the current rules. If you want to dampen that power–give it some limits–you have to change the rules, or you need to find some pay back. It certainly wouldn't hurt to do both. If you show Joe that his feckless opposition will have consequences then you may counter balance Aetna's influence to some extent.

    It isn't vicious, its strategy.

  15. @Larry Birnbaum:

    What makes you think Ned Lamont could not have won the general election? Lieberman lost the primary fair and square, for many reasons. His big fat kiss with Bush the Lesser and what that signifies comes to mind. But I think voters in Connecticut just got tired of his solipsistic approach to everything. And I mean everything. When he is finally gone he won't be missed.

  16. I've no idea whether Lamont would have won the general if the party had fully supported him. No idea. But I don't regret either of the votes (primary & general) I cast for him. I knew Lieberman was a douche then, though I didn't realize how bad it really was.

  17. Brett,

    The Republic opposition isn't studied opposition, nor is it loyal opposition. Studied, loyal opposition engages in serious debate and makes serious counterproposals. The Republics have done neither of these things. Calling the Republic proposal for health care finance a mockery (as Warren did) gives mockery a bad name.

    As nearly as I can tell, Republic opposition to President Obama is based on two things: he's a Democrat, and he's like Sheriff Bart from Blazing Saddles. Unfortunately for us, the people of Rock Ridge were more open-minded and discerning than the typical Republic voter, and their alleged leaders are busy fanning their constituent's fears, uncertainties and doubts.

  18. I don't know what Connecticut's laws are on the removal of US senators, but if it were, I'd do what you suggest, Mark, and couple it with a ground effort in Connecticut to cut the legs out from under Lieberman. Make the Maverick Wannabe sweat a lot, and be wary of what might happens if he ever engages in this type of brazen treachery and political sabotage again.

  19. Just how are you going to impose costs on a guy who is content with being a warm body in a seat that's not up for another 5 years? True to form, Joe Lieberman is animated and full of "questions" on a topic he probably doesn't understand any better than Palin understands energy policy. I think Reid should just tell Lieberman that even the sun shines on a dog's ass rather than try to impose "costs" on him.

  20. Hugo, Lieberman's up again in '12, so it's three years, not five. Bet it's going to seem a lot longer, though.

  21. Gee, guys, do you really want to go after Hadassah? And then to give a green light to the Reeps, when they next have control, to go after Linda Daschle? How about making life living hell for Jenny Sanford, if her husband comes a cropper over expenses? We could go back to the days when a political spouse could do nothing but pablum jobs – the remarkable success of Mark Hatfield's wife as a real estate broker, etc. Think about it – it seems to me a road we don't want to go down.

  22. Dave, doesn't a close family member's high office give the potential for conflict of interest? Isn't it fair to point possible conflicts out, esp. those coinciding with major sudden policy shifts?

  23. What does Joe Lieberman actually care about? How about we threaten to take that away?

    Let's threaten to cut off aid to Israel unless he plays ball. That'll get his attention.

  24. Isn't Maine called the "Pine Tree State"? Maybe some huge timber subsidies in the bill would bring Collins and Snowe on board, and the senior Senator from Aetna could be cut out of the loop. In such a huge bill, who would have time to notice, especially if it is added in the middle of the night? Hasn't this kind of thing worked in the past?

  25. First, I'd like to congratulate Mark on finally realizing the game Lieberman is playing.

    chrismealy says:

    "Why would Lieberman stop now? He knows he’s in control now. I bet he’s just getting starting."

    This is even bigger than HCR. As I've been saying and saying and saying……, Lieberman (and Nelson and the rest of the Gang O' Alleged Democratic Senators) have successfully b*tchslapped Obama. Even if a HCR bill worth passing is eventually passed – which, please note, seem to be always just a few weeks away – these guys will have gutted the majority of Obama's prime first year issue, with no cost to themselves. And don't think that they're not ready to spend 2010 making 2009 look good by comparison.

  26. larry birnbaum says:

    "However I remain equally aggravated with the “progressives” who decided to go after him [Lieberman] without actually having thought through things like, you know, whether they could actually win in the general election. And if anything they’re even more annoyingly sanctimonious than he is."

    I'd agree with you, in an alternate world where Lieberman hasn't been a backstabbing wh*reson since 1998, at least. In 1998, he was siding with the GOP against Clinton on impeachment; in 2000 he suddenly couldn't debate triple-bypass Cheney, and so on.

    Scorpion and Frog, guys (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scorpion_and_the_frog). Lieberman backstabs because that's what he is. There is no changing him.

    I'm amazed that people can still assume that there's a bit of non-backstabber still in him, after a solid 11-year record of being the #1 Democrat who gleefully f*cks over Democrats.

  27. Dave,

    Yeah, I really do want to go up against Hadassah, and Linda Daschle and every other corruption conduit that Congresscritters and Senators use to make themselves wealthy by allowing those nearest them to rent their access to the legislator. We don't allow congressional staffers to lobby their former bosses for a year after leaving Federal service. Why do we allow spouses, siblings and children to sell their access to the legislator in question?

    The answer is that we shouldn't.

    And as far as what Lieberman cares about, the only consistent thing Lieberman seems to care about is Lieberman. If someone wanted to hurt Lieberman, the best point of attack is his (wildly inflated) self-esteem. Take his seniority away from him, take his committee chairmanship away from him, make him go join the Republics. Given his penchant for back-stabbing, he might do more good for us there than he has as a nominal member of the Democratic Caucus.

  28. KLG, my evidence that Lamont couldn't win the general election is that he didn't. As I recall it wasn't even particularly close. Was the Democratic establishment ambivalent about him? In this instance they probably had an inkling that that outcome was very likely. And beyond that many of them probably thought the primary voters, never a huge percentage of the electorate in any case, had made a mistake on the merits. Were there grounds even then for being dismayed with some of Lieberman's positions? Yes, but by miscalculating as they did they made a bad situation worse.

    They weren't fools at the level of Nader supporters in 2000, but it was still a pretty egregious mistake.

  29. larry, again you're assuming that Lieberman wouldn't be playing the same game. Remember that he served Bush rather loyally for years?

  30. Mark, if you want to impose costs, it's pretty easy – ram a tax on insurance companies through reconcilation. It'd only last a few years, but those could hurt. And let the f*ckers know that that's only the first of more steps. As fast as possible ram individual bills through reconcilation, targeting the opponents of HCR. I'm willing to bet that Nelson and the l-maggot would rein themselves in, somehow, as if by magic.

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