For awhile this week, it looked like the opposition of Connecticut Independent Senator Joe Lieberman could doom the Democrats' attempt at passing health care. That changed when Majority Leader Harry Reid gave in to Lieberman's demands on the Medicare buy-in program and the public option.
In Washington, many Democrats and progressives were furious at Lieberman, and some called for him to be stripped of his committee chairmanship. But here in Connecticut, it's more of a mixed bag. WNPR's Diane Orson reports.
The Tower Grill is a small diner just off Route 8 in an industrial area in Waterbury CT. During his political campaigns , Senator Joseph Lieberman routinely stops at diners like the Tower for his “Cuppa Joe” sessions – scrambled eggs, O.J. and a chance to talk with state residents like Myrna Wantanabe. But mention Lieberman’s name this morning, and Wantanabe gets pretty caffeinated... and that’s without any coffee.
"I would hope that this is the end of him politically. I mean I would truly hope that he is politically finished. I’m pretty angry as you can tell."
Wantanabe is a member of Connecticut’s Democratic Central Committee. She says Democrats in the state are furious over Lieberman 's opposition to expanding Medicare coverage, an idea he championed as Al Gore's running mate back in 2000 – and supported just three months ago.
"The word that comes to mind is a word that one of my fellow State Central Committee members used in discussing him and its 'duplicitous'. What does Joe want?"
Mark Pazniokas has covered Joe Lieberman as a reporter for the Hartford Courant, both when Lieberman was serving as a Democrat and since he was re-elected as an independent three years ago. Pazniokas says the answer may be .. center stage. Pazniokas calls Lieberman “the luckiest guy in politics” because his vote has been so crucial to Democrats.
"In 2006 when he won re-election, the Democrats needed him to get to the magic number of 51 Senators. Now they need him for 60 votes which is necessary to move business ..to ward off filibusters. So who has that kinda luck? He is the guy."
But Lieberman, whose term is up in 2012, may not be the kind of guy Connecticut Democrats continue to stand behind. Rabbi Joseph Ron Fish has always voted for Lieberman, despite disagreeing with the senator's support of the Iraq war. Not any longer. Lieberman's stance on health care prompted Rabbi Fish to write a letter, signed by nearly 300 clergy across the state, calling on Lieberman to rethink his position on health care.
"He said that it was a matter of conscience for him. And for me this was a bridge too far. As a matter of conscience I felt that it was important for the Senator to hear from me. A constituent. A person who also is guided by conscience and a member of his religious community."
But not all CT residents disagree with Lieberman:
"I think he’s the only sane Democrat."
Back at the Tower Grill, Bob Verrastro finishes up his breakfast. He’s a retired investigator for the State Labor Department and a registered Republican.
"I’m a conservative. And Mr. Lieberman is a conservative Democrat and he’s had my vote, even running against Republicans."
And Gary Saam, a state social worker says Lieberman’s doing the best he can to lower the cost of healthcare.
"He’s trying to hold all sides accountable. I trust Joe and his instincts."
But state Democrats are worried, and Joe Lieberman is not their only headache. Senator Chris Dodd’s poll numbers are so low some in the party like Myrna Wantanabe say he can’t win re-election next year. But despite his trouble Wantanabe says she’s always got a pretty good sense where Dodd stands on the issues. And that’s something she lost a long time ago with Joe Lieberman.
For NPR News, I’m Diane Orson in New Haven.