Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, is a former amateur boxer, and he certainly throws some serious punches at several of his Senate colleagues, regardless of party, in a forthcoming interview with Adam Nagourney of the New York Times.
In the interview, citing "associates" of Reid, Nagourney asserts that the leader was "caught...by surprise" when Sen. Joe Lieberman, a self-styled "independent Democrat", said publicly on a Sunday talk show that he was opposed to an expansion of Medicare.
But the Connecticut senator's spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, has reached out with this statement vehemently disputing the account and a Dec. 10 letter (see bottom of post) from his boss to Reid in which his opposition is made clear:
"Senator Lieberman does not believe that Senator Reid would say the words attributed to him by anonymous sources in the New York Times Magazine...because they are contrary to their relationship and the facts of the situation. The remarks attributed to Senator Reid by unnamed 'associates' about Senator Lieberman 'double-crossing' the Leader are completely false, untrue and have absolutely no basis in fact. Senator Lieberman was crystal clear to Senator Reid concerning his opposition to the Medicare-buy in proposal."
When asked if Wittman's account squares with that known by Reid's staff, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said only, "No comment."
But that's not the end of the rough words by the feisty leader, known for his loose tongue, who recently had to beat back offensive remarks he made in an attempt to praise President Obama for a book about the 2008 campaign.
Reid, usually known for his pragmatism behind the scenes in cutting deals to clear legislation, is in an extraordinarily difficult spot as he tries to navigate extremely partisan waters to get healthcare reform passed, particularly within his own party, showed his frustration to Nagourney.
The senator spent many hours over many days trying to work out a deal that would score just one Republican vote, that of moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, and he endured a lot of flack from the left for doing so. But his frustration/anger showed through to Nagourney: "As I look back, it was a waste of time dealing with her." Reid added that he thought Snowe "had no intention of ever working anything out."
I've reached out to Snowe's staff for a comment, but I can say - in talking with the senator numerous times -- she seemed genuinely engaged. Sure, she played her hand, as any good politician would do-- remaining relevant, trying to work out a deal. But she really put in an inordinate number of ours. It's hard to imagine she had "no intention of ever working anything out." But I could be wrong.
Then Reid, who's no fan of the Republicans' 2008 presidential nominee, took on Sen. John McCain, R-AZ.
He told the NYT that he's amazed by McCain. "I thought he'd turn out to be a statesman, work for things. He's against everything," Reid told Nagourney.
One very candid admission appears unsolicited --- with Reid saying of Obama, "I personally wish that Obama had a smaller agenda" - and that it "would be less work."
Given the abysmally low poll numbers for Reid, who is up for re-election this year and the top Republican target, it's no surprise he would say that.
LIEBERMAN'S LETTER TO REID:
December 10, 2009
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
The Honorable Harry Reid
Office of the Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
It has been very good to work with you in the current health care legislative process, just as it has throughout your leadership. I have great respect for you, and great trust in you. (I even like you). Throughout our relationship, we have always been open and direct with one another. That is why, because I do not know what is in the proposals that the group of ten has asked you to send to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), I am sending you this letter to clarify where I am on them based on the variety of possibilities I have heard.
I might well be able to support the so-called Office of Personnel Management (OPM) proposal, where a private insurance company, non-profit or profit, can apply to OPM to enter negotiations to be approved to offer health insurance on the 50 state exchanges. This will add to competition and choice on the exchanges and probably lower prices, without raising any risk of federal government taxpayer liability for costs or other responsibilities. As I have said repeatedly, I cannot support any fallback or trigger that would say that if OPM doesn't negotiate an agreement with a national plan, then OPM would create a public option or non-profit insurance company to compete on the exchanges.
Regarding the “Medicare buy-in” proposal, the more I learn about it, the less I like it. A similar idea was part of the Democratic platform of 2000 which I ran on with Al Gore. But that was a very different time. The federal government had a surplus, Medicare wasn't facing imminent bankruptcy, and there wasn't a health care reform bill that created a vast new system of subsidies and tax credits and exchanges which will probably provide more assistance to this 55-65 year old population than the Medicare buy-in will. In fact, this becomes so clear, that I fear the people who are advocating the Medicare buy-in are doing so not because they think it will give more help to these Americans than the subsidies and exchanges, but because they see it as a big step toward a single payer system as Congressman Anthony Wiener and others have explicitly said.
Of course, there are also concerns about what impact this Medicare buy-in idea would have on Medicare solvency and Medicare premiums. I have a feeling I will not be the only member of our Caucus who will not want to see this Medicare buy-in proposal adopted.
The great majority of the merged bill you have offered, Harry, has the support of all members of our Caucus, and, if adopted, would be an enormous accomplishment that will improve the lives of millions of Americans. It is very progressive legislation. My hope is that you can convince our progressive colleagues to declare victory since real people will see real benefits if your bill passes.
I am taking the liberty of sending confidential copies of this to Chuck Schumer and Mark Pryor because of the leadership role they are playing on these matters.
Joseph I. Lieberman
UNITED STATES SENATOR
cc: Senator Chuck Schumer
Senator Mary Pryor