Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), known as the Senator from Israel for his unqualified support of that country and its military at great expense to U.S. taxpayers and their legitimate interests, maneuvered to kill meaningful healthcare insurance reform in the U.S. in mid-December.
Lieberman holds the 60th vote Senate Democrats need to pass a health care bill. Last week, Democrats reached a compromise that would allow 55- to 64-year-old Americans to buy into Medicare while excluding the public option that is seen as essential to reform by many Democrats. On Sunday, Lieberman informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that he would block any bill that included a buy-in.
Speculation about Lieberman’s motives has focused on his connections to the insurance industry in Connecticut, home to 72 insurance companies with more than 65,000 employees, the highest concentration of insurance industry jobs in the U.S., and an annual payroll of more than $6 billion in 2007, according to report by Janet Kaminski, an attorney with the Connecticut General Assembly.
Writing for Harper’s Magazine, Scott Horton noted in late October that, “When he was seeking reelection in 2006, Joe Lieberman campaigned as a supporter of healthcare reform and expressed his support for ‘universal healthcare.’ When the rubber hit the road, however, Lieberman emerged as a frontline warrior for the healthcare industry in its efforts to block reform. Yesterday, he not only noted his opposition to the very modest public option contained in the legislation that Majority Leader Harry Reid put forward, he also stated that he would cross the aisles to support a Republican filibuster. Should we be surprised? No. Lieberman has long been one of the industry’s favorite players on the hill, accepting more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry and more than $600,000 from pharmaceuticals and related healthcare-products companies. But his ties run deeper than that. His wife Hadassah previously worked for two lobbying firms, Hill & Knowlton and APCO, handling matters for their healthcare and pharmaceuticals clients. Throughout the 2006 campaign, Lieberman pointedly refused to discuss the scope of his wife’s engagement for the healthcare industry or even the specific clients for whom she was working.”
Marc Ambinder, writing for The Atlantic on December 14, suggested an element of revenge at work in Lieberman’s political calculations.
“What Lieberman is actually trying to do — and surely, the Democratic leadership has discovered this by now — is to kill or weaken the bill. Since, really, 2006, Lieberman has felt alienated from his caucus, and he’s grown more conservative. He does not care about liberals, who tried to drum him out of office in 2006; he seems to enjoy poking them in the eye. He’s not likely to run for office again, so he’s not terribly worried about loud protests. His contempt for liberals coincides with his new conservative friends, aides, colleagues, donors,” wrote Ambinder.
Writing for Think Progress on December 14, Matthew Yglesias noted that, “Lieberman wants no public option, no trigger that might create a public option, and no expansion of existing programs as a substitute for a public option. And he doesn’t care about expressing that view in misleading ways, timed to cause embarrassment to the Democratic leadership. And, frankly, unlike some other troublesome Democratic Senators one can hardly be all that surprised that he’s making problems for the Obama administration’s #1 domestic priority. After all, Lieberman took the view that John McCain would be the better President. … The leverage that Lieberman and other ‘centrists’ have obtained on this issue (and on climate change) stems from a demonstrated willingness to embrace sociopathic indifference to the human cost of their actions.
One seasoned observer of Washington politics argues that another factor influenced Lieberman’s desire to weaken or kill any health care insurance reform legislation. Consortium News founder Robert Parry pointed out on December 15 that, though many are questioning Lieberman’s motives, “no one is mentioning the unmentionable, the cause that has come to define Lieberman’s career: Israel.”
“Is it possible that Lieberman’s obstructionist behavior doesn’t relate to Connecticut’s insurance industry or to his political ego – the two most cited explanations – but rather to a calculation that he can use his leverage on health care to limit the pressure that President Barack Obama can put on Israel to make concessions on a Mideast peace plan?” asked Parry, who proceeded to point out the flaws in the more common explanations of Lieberman’s actions.
“While it is true that Lieberman’s constituent Hartford-based insurance companies fear any government intrusion in their industry, the actual proposals for the Medicare buy-in or the tightly constrained “public option” actually would benefit the industry in the near term.
“Those uninsured Americans 55 to 64 are customers whom the insurance industry doesn’t want. They are the part of the uninsured population that is most likely to need medical care, which is why private insurers have driven up the rates so high that these people can’t afford to buy health insurance.
“Letting these desperate Americans buy into Medicare wouldn’t cost the health insurance industry much of anything – and it would reduce the moral (and PR) crisis that has led so many Americans to view private insurers as vultures preying on the most vulnerable.
“In his past position in favor of the Medicare buy-in, Lieberman has recognized this reality, noting that this over-55 group faces a particular crisis because they have ‘retired early or unfortunately have been laid off early’ and can’t afford health insurance.
“Though Lieberman has long been a major recipient of health insurance industry backing, that has never before prevented him from favoring this Medicare buy-in. Only now does Lieberman say that he would join a Republican filibuster to kill the entire bill if his earlier proposal is included,” wrote Parry.
Parry also questioned Lieberman’s obdurate opposition to a triggered or a tightly-constrained public option noting that, “The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that only about six million people would sign up for the House version of the public option … The current Senate version, with a state-by-state opt-out provision, would draw even fewer customers, the CBO said.
“Yet either version actually helps the health insurance industry by siphoning off sick people and thus allowing the industry to corner the market on healthier customers, where the biggest profits lie.
“So, Lieberman may not be serving the industry’s best interests by jeopardizing passage of a health reform bill. Not only does the industry stand to pick up tens of millions of new customers who will be compelled to buy insurance – and sometimes with government subsidies – but a decent reform bill also blunts demands for more radical changes,” wrote Parry.
Pointing to Israel as, “Lieberman’s most treasured priority in his political life,” Parry quoted Mark Vogel, chairman of the pro-Israel National Action Committee: “Joe Lieberman, without exception, no conditions … is the No. 1 pro-Israel advocate and leader in Congress. There is nobody who does more on behalf of Israel than Joe Lieberman.”
Parry notes that Lieberman’s aggressive support for military action against Israel’s enemies and his adoption of the neoconservative ideology caused Connecticut Democrats to deny him the Senate nomination in 2006 and forced him to run as an Independent.
“Partly because Obama opposed the Iraq War, Lieberman went on the stump for Republican John McCain in 2008, even questioning Obama’s patriotism.
“Standing with McCain in August 2008, Lieberman called the election a choice ‘between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not.’
“Since the start of Obama’s presidency, Israel’s hawkish Likud government has made no secret of its concern that Obama might pressure it into making territorial and other concessions to the Palestinians and Syria to secure a Mideast peace agreement.
“In Washington, the still-influential neocons also have been demanding that Obama continue Bush’s belligerent policies and side with Israel in a hard-line approach to Iran.
“In that sense, Lieberman and the neocons have much in common with Republicans, such as Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, who declared in July that ‘If we’re able to stop Obama on this [health reform], it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.’
“A broken Obama could be easier to manipulate regarding Mideast peace talks and Iran,” wrote Parry, who proceeded to make the case that whatever hurts Obama strengthens Israel’s hand.
“If Lieberman succeeds in sinking Obama’s chief domestic priority – health care reform – or waters it down so much that it alienates Obama from his liberal base, Obama may find himself essentially the captive of the neocons, needing their blessing to maintain any political viability in Washington.
“Lieberman has been careful not to connect his disruptive behavior on health-care reform to his support for Israel, but there can be little doubt that a chastened Obama, either defeated on health care or forced to sign a bill that liberals will view as a betrayal, will have much less political capital to expend in applying pressure on Israel.
“A hobbled Obama won’t be able to push Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt expansion of West Bank settlements or to take other steps that might lead to a Palestinian state. Obama also could be pushed around himself if Israel – itself an undeclared nuclear power – decides to launch airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“The Israel explanation for Lieberman’s behavior on health-care reform is the one that seems to make the most sense,” concluded Parry.
Missing in all of these analyses is another important aspect of Lieberman’s political clout, his connections to the defense industry.
Connecticut is home to General Electric, United Technologies, Ensign Bickford, Electric Boat, Colt, and other defense industry heavyweights. If Lieberman is the Senator from Aetna and the Senator from Israel, he is also the Senator from War, Inc.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been widely reported to be sinkholes of wanton waste, fraud, and abuse. A Congressional Research Service document dated June 24, 2009 and titled “Defense Logistical Support Contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan: Issues for Congress,” reported that, “Recent assessments from GAO [Government Accountability Office], DOD [Department of Defense]’s IG [Inspector General], and the SIGIR [Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction] reveal a lack of Federal oversight, management, and accountability for funds spent in Iraq contracting. According to Charles Williams, Director, Defense Contract Management Agency, there are vacancies for more than 600 oversight positions in Iraq and Afghanistan. An audit conducted by the DOD IG revealed that the Federal government failed to substantiate the disbursement of at least $7.8 billion of $8.2 billion spent for goods and services in Iraq. In a May 22, 2008 congressional hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, DOD officials revealed estimates that the Army disbursed $1.4 billion in commercial payments that lacked the minimum supporting justification and documentation for a valid payment – such as certified vouchers and invoices. In one reported instance, a payment of $325 million was made without justification beyond a signature.”
Lieberman, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (SCHSGA), is well placed to agitate for wider war and to threaten Iran and Israel’s other enemies, as he often does, occasionally while speaking to reporters in Groton, CT, after meetings there with officials at Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics that builds and refits the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered and -armed submarines. Apparently Lieberman places a higher priority on his dual role as a promoter of war and Israel’s enforcer than on his responsibilities as a steward of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars.
SCHSGA has jurisdiction over budgetary and accounting measures other than appropriations and is authorized to investigate the operations of all branches of the Government including the possible existence of fraud, misfeasance, malfeasance, collusion, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption, or unethical practices, waste, extravagance, conflicts of interest, and the improper expenditure of Government funds. Or not – as under Lieberman’s chairmanship. Lieberman, who made sure there was no serious Senate investigation of Enron’s trading of energy derivatives, Lieberman, who declined look at the Bush administration’s criminal incompetence and malfeasance in responding to Hurricane Katrina, Lieberman, who has shown no real interest in examining the failure of Federal regulators to prevent the crimes and abuses that led directly to the collapse of the financial services industry and the most severe recession since the Great Depression, has also given major defense contractors, including PMCs (private military company) such as Blackwater, a free pass on corruption and other criminal activity in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Israel has a long history of and a well-deserved reputation for espionage and corruption, both of which are rampant in the defense industry. The Dotan case is illustrative.
In 1992, General Electric pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati to four Federal criminal fraud charges involving the illegal sale of jet engines to Israel, while in Israel, former Israeli Brigadier General Rami Dotan was convicted of diverting tens of millions of U.S. military aid dollars from a General Electric contract to unauthorized Israeli military projects and to secret Swiss bank accounts set up by an Israeli intelligence operative. Dotan was sentenced to 13 years in an Israeli military prison.
“American investigators suspect Dotan’s actions were part of a scheme to launder U.S. aid money for use in clandestine Israeli intelligence operations, and were in fact approved at the highest levels of the Israeli government. … General Electric … was fined $69 million for its part in the thefts. Herbert Steindler, a resident of Israel and the GE official in charge of contracting with Israel, was discharged from the company. Several other GE employees were disciplined.
“However, no criminal charges have been placed against the GE employees involved, nor have any public announcements yet been made of investigations of other companies and individuals believed to have been involved in similar diversions of U.S. military aid funds under other contracts entered into by the government of Israel,” wrote Frank Collins in the December/January 1992/1993 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. The report noted that U.S. investigations were underway as a result of alleged similar misconduct at Pratt and Whitney, General Motors and Teledyne.
“When the diversions of U.S. taxpayer funds to unauthorized Israeli military programs and to secret Swiss bank accounts by Dotan and Steindler were revealed, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Defense made some half-hearted efforts to investigate but were rebuffed by the Israeli government on the pretext that, because Israeli security was involved, Israeli law forbade access by U.S. investigators to Israeli government personnel, regardless of the terms of the U.S. government-funded contract.
“Under prodding by Congressman John Dingell [then chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee of Commerce and Energy, which he also headed], who threatened to shut down the entire military aid agreement until Israel complied with its terms, U.S. investigators insisted upon interviewing Dotan – now demoted from general to private and serving his sentence in an Israeli military jail – and Harold Katz. Katz, who holds U.S. and Israeli citizenship, is an Israeli intelligence official who was implicated in the case of U.S. Navy counter-intelligence specialist Jonathan Jay Pollard, convicted of espionage against the U.S. on behalf of Israel. Now Katz is believed to have masterminded the transfer of funds siphoned from GE contracts through U.S. dummy corporations to a number of Swiss banks, presumably for clandestine Israeli intelligence purposes in Europe or the U.S.,” wrote Collins.
“In late September, the government of Israel announced that it would allow U.S. questioning of Dotan. However, the questioning of the American citizen Harold Katz, resident in Israel, was not mentioned. The procedures proposed by Israel for the interrogation of Dotan were agreed upon by the U.S. government and made public in Washington. They lead to the suspicion that the questioning will be a travesty of judicial procedures, and is designed to close rather than break open the case, which has the potential to reveal more intelligence operations in the U. S. or Western Europe comparable to the Pollard case.
“Journalists have discovered that after Dotan pled guilty and was sentenced for diverting the U.S. funds, a whole new prison wing was built to accommodate him and he was permitted to choose a prison mate. He chose a man who is serving three months for the murder of several Palestinians. While the Israeli authorities are allowing Dotan’s family liberal access to his prison quarters, they are denying any direct access to the U.S. investigators,” wrote Collins.
Many long time observers of Washington politics and U.S. Middle East foreign policy find it impossible to imagine that Sen. Lieberman would initiate any investigation that might reflect negatively upon Israel or threaten that country’s interests as he perceives them.
Meanwhile, though the government of Israel has long provided universal health care for all its citizens, the Senator from Israel is doing his utmost to block health care insurance reform in this country and undermine President Obama’s efforts to halt the further expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land and bring Israeli leaders to the negotiating table – and peace to the Middle East – at last.