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Lieberman Forces Debate Over Health Strategy

Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (ID-Conn.) announcement Tuesday that he would vote to block a bill with a public insurance option — or even a trigger for one — instantly boosted the push by some Democrats to use filibuster-busting reconciliation rules.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) had already been leading the charge for bypassing filibusters, telling reporters as he was flanked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) that allowing a minority of Senators to block health care reform was not acceptable.

“I think it would be a mistake for us to allow 41 percent of the Senate to deny 61 percent of the public what it’s asking for,— Clyburn said. He urged the Senate leadership to consider going the reconciliation route that was provided for in the Democratic budget resolution.

“We may be in that place today,— Clyburn said. “We must deliver health care reform for the American people.—

Clyburn said Americans know that Democrats are in charge of both chambers and don’t care about the Senate’s 60-vote rules for ending debate.

Other powerful House Democrats are clearly prepared to use reconciliation if needed to get a public insurance option.

“If they can’t get to 60 votes, we might as well go to reconciliation,— House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said. “The end product is the most important result.—

But he said reconciliation still was a “fallback— and not the most desirable way to go. And he cautioned that it was a Senate problem and that Senators have been known to change their minds.

Regardless, the House is resolute, Waxman said.

“We need a public option and the House will have one, and we are going to insist on one in conference, whatever the Senate does,— he said. “That’s going to be our position.—

Waxman added that he’s a “little tired of people drawing positions, either my way or the highway. … The legislative process is compromise.—

Senate Democratic leaders have been decidedly less enthusiastic about using reconciliation but have not closed the door on it.

They are still trying to find a way to keep Lieberman in the fold, according to Democratic aides, despite his comments.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “has known about this for a while,— a Senate Democratic leadership aide said about Lieberman’s position. “While it has been and continues to be an option, the only thing President [Barack] Obama and Sen. Reid are interested in is getting to 60 votes.—

The aide added, “No one should fool themselves — reconciliation is not the silver bullet.—

The aide noted that Lieberman indicated he would vote to proceed to the bill and said there was still hope that in the end he would come around.

When asked about the potential that his vote would cause Democrats to use reconciliation, Lieberman said that would not cause him to budge.

“I hope not, but that possibility, which I think would be a mistake, is not enough to lead me to vote for something I think will be bad for the country,— Lieberman said.

A former Senate Republican leadership aide also questioned whether Lieberman would ultimately block a health care bill and figures Democrats will want to avoid the procedural problems they would have in starting over and going back to committee for a reconciliation bill.

Reconciliation also would require Democrats to rewrite their bills to comply with arcane rules, which prohibit the inclusion of measures that don’t have an impact on the budget unless 60 Senators vote to keep the provision. But reconciliation has the added bonus of limiting total debate to 20 hours, potentially allowing the bill to pass in a single week.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.