Democrats in the Senate who thought they had a compromise progressives and "centrists" could both support learned this weekend that independent Sen. Joe Lieberman can be counted on to do just about anything to sabotage health care reform.
The Connecticut senator said he will join Republicans in opposing a health care bill if it permits those without insurance as young as 55 to purchase Medicare coverage.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs 60 votes to overcome Republican opposition and need's Lieberman's vote to achieve that total.
Democratic aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lieberman told Reid on Sunday that he would support a Republican filibuster against reform if it contained either the Medicare buy-in or any other measure that permitted the government to sell insurance in competition with private companies.
Democratic leaders are particularly angry because only last week Lieberman seemed to express support for the Medicare provision and had made public comments that were favorable. Six years ago Lieberman ran for Vice President on a platform that included a Medicare buy-in for people not eligible for the program.
Another so-called "moderate" senator is also pulling back from the favorable comments about the Senate compromise that he had made only a few days ago.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D., Neb., now says he is "skeptical" of the Medicare buy-in. Last Wednesday he told members of the press that, "in theory," he liked the idea. Nelson was one of a group of liberal and conservative Democrats who had hammered out the Medicare buy-in as a compromise substitute for the public option. On Thursday, however, he told reporters he was "concerned" that the Medicare buy-in would become a "vehicle for single-payer" and that he "wouldn't be surprised if this thing does not become a viable option."
Also on Friday Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Me., told reporters that she opposes the Medicare buy-in but, when pressed, did not say she would join a filibuster against it. She said she would make a decision about joining a filibuster after the Congressional Budget Office releases its report on the financial impact of the compromise bill.
With Lieberman against the compromise and Nelson and Snowe leaning against it, Senate supporters of health care reform lack the 60 votes they need to overcome a Republican filibuster.
As Lieberman, the Republicans and some of the conservative Democrats continued their maneuvering union members and religious leaders continued to mount what has become a national mass movement for health care reform that is growing by the day.
While holiday shoppers converged on the Union Square shopping district in San Francisco on Friday night, for example, religious leaders and health care activists gathered in the center of the square in solemn commemoration of the 45,000 Americans who died this year because they didn't have health insurance.
"We are fighting for the soul of America," said the Rev. Cecil Williams. "It will be tempting for Congress to get lost in the weeds of politics and succumb to the pressure to weaken reform, but we need them to remember that people count more than profits, and they cannot allow another 45,000 to die next year waiting for health care reform."
As ministers, rabbis, Islamic, Buddist and other spiritual leaders took turns reading out the names of the deceased, 300 union members, health care advocates and passers-by stood in silence, candles flickering, to pay respects to the uninsured that have died.
While many health care demonstrations feature lively rallies and energetic protests, more of them have, as the major religious holidays approach, taken on a more somber and deliberative tone.
On Chicago's South Side members of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church devoted their annual "Advent Retreat" on Saturday to the fight for health care reform.
The event, which included a viewing of the famed director Michael Moore's film "Sicko," was followed by a community forum. A member of the congregation, commenting on the role of lawmakers who oppose health care reform, said, "In so many ways, America has lost its moral bearings. This is a big challenge we all face but this is a faith community and we always have hope so we fight and we know we will win."
On the Internet, meanwhile, Lieberman's maneuvers are also drawing an outpouring of indignation and anger.
A blogger, responding to a report on talkingpointsmemo.com, wrote, "What I hope will happen is they will go to reconciliation, strip Lieberman of all power and responsibility, and give us our freedom back by making it possible to get health insurance without corporate serfdom through a strong, money-saving public option. What I really hope is they chuck the whole sorry mess and give us Medicare for all. Why not? What good are insurance companies? They are like a cancerous growth."
Photo: The Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care prepares to deliver hundreds of prayers to Sen. Lieberman last month asking for his support for the public option at his office in Hartford, Conn. The grassroots pressure on Lieberman is growing in his home state.