- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 14, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The biggest unreported news in ages just happened in plain sight. America’s conservatives have been backed into opposing their own mantra of states’ rights.

Just so they can continue to say no to any form of public option for health insurance.

We’ll get to that. But first we need to clear up your confusion about those three political opposites who suddenly showed up in your living room Sunday morning: The proud politician who had been the Democratic vice presidential standard-bearer. The politician who was cheered by a Republican National Convention after he’d vowed to work for a GOP presidential victory. And finally, the fellow whose name nobody ever knew but whose face we can’t forget - that wincing, whiny-voiced guy who looked like “Mr. Before” in the old Excedrin TV commercials.

They all showed up together on Fox News Sunday - a self-absorbed crowd of one: Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent.

As always, the senator talked not about himself but only about his conscience - as in what his conscience thinks about the Senate Democrats’ health reform bill. “If the public option plan is in there, as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Increasingly, Mr. Lieberman portrays himself as a conscientious objector. Mr. Lieberman doesn’t object to things, but his conscience does. In this case, Mr. Lieberman’s conscience will force him to vote to allow Senate Republicans to talk health care to death via a filibuster. (The ex-Democrat/now-independent might become the 60th vote Democrats need to cut off debate and prevent a filibuster.)

The Senate’s “public option” would give those now uninsured the option of being insured by a government-run plan that will compete with private heath insurance. Conservatives contend any government-run option will undercut for-profit private insurers, driving them out of business. Mr. Lieberman’s home state is headquarters for a number of large insurance companies. Since 2005, insurance companies, pharmaceutical and health-product industries and health professionals have invested more than $1 million in Mr. Lieberman’s campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. They look forward to reaping handsome returns on their investments.

Of course, Mr. Lieberman’s conscience does not admit to thinking about that. He never mentioned protecting Connecticut’s insurance companies - he’s just protecting our kids. He told Fox News he opposes any plan with a public option “because I believe the debt can break America and send us into a recession that’s worse than the one we’re fighting our way out of today. I don’t want to do that to our - to our children and grandchildren.”

Time out: All of health care’s public options have some flaws, but their strongest selling point is they will cut costs, faster and further, by forcing private insurers to trim premiums to compete. (One flaw: surely some doctors will not accept public-option fees.)

Alas, host Chris Wallace never asked the mandatory truth-telling follow-up: Since a public option will cut costs, isn’t it a potential salvation for future generations?

Speaking of senators and consciences, pity Senate Republicans. Their heroes - Sen. Barry Goldwater, who wrote “The Conscience of a Conservative,” and his disciple, Ronald Reagan, who lived it - considered “states’ rights” their philosophical bedrock. Goldwater wrote in his 1960 book (which has just been reissued) that “the federal Constitution does not require the States to maintain racially mixed schools.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, Nevada Democrat, has out-Foxed Republicans by inserting into the Democrats’ health care reform bill a public option that includes the ultimate state’s right - any state has the right to opt out of it. Republicans, by opposing that, are opposing Democrats’ recognition of their cherished Goldwater-Reagan states’ rights.

Still, there is one thing Republicans fear more - the specter of what will surely come if the Senate Democrats have their way:

Conservative governors will seek to opt out of a public option - and run smack into a revolt by their own voters, even fellow conservatives - once they see a public option has lowered insurance premiums for the folks in the states next door.

Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.

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