One of the Senate's most powerful Democrats said Sunday that President Obama should take an "incremental" approach to fixing health care and argued that the country should postpone adding nearly 50 million new patients to the government system until after the recession is over.
"We morally, every one of us, would like to cover every American with health insurance," Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, told CNN's John King on the "State of the Union" program.
"But that's where you spend most of the $1 trillion plus, a little less that is estimated, the estimate said this healthcare plan will cost," he said.
"I'm afraid we've got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy's out of recession," he added.
"There's no reason we have to do it all now, but we do have to get started. And I think the place to start is health delivery reform and insurance market reforms."
John King asked Lieberman if it was "time for the president to hit the reset button? Forget sweeping healthcare reform this year, do three or four incremental things that are less costly?"
Lieberman responded: "In a word, yes. I don't think -- I give the president tremendous credit for taking on the healthcare problem. And it really is a problem that we've got to deal with. But he took it on at a very difficult time that was not of his making.
"In other words, we're in a recession. People are very worried about their jobs, about the economic future. They've watched us add to the debt of this country. We're projected to run a $1.8 trillion deficit this year, September 30th, more than $1 trillion next year. You mentioned the 10-year numbers. People are nervous, I think the protests coming out at the public meetings around the country this month are as much to do with that larger environment as they are with questions about healthcare reform. I think great changes in our country often have come in steps. The civil rights movement occurred — changes occurred in steps. Let's focus now on how to reduce costs. That's been a central theme of the president.
"Let's talk about how to change the way health care is delivered. Let's talk about protecting people from not getting insurance because of pre-existing illness. Let's take off the caps on the amount of insurance coverage you can get over the years. Let's pay for preventive services for health from the first dollar. Here's the tough one. We morally, every one of us, would like to cover every American with health insurance. But that's where you spend most of the $1 trillion plus, a little less that is estimated, the estimate said this healthcare plan will cost."
Lieberman also said he oppose any attempt his colleagues to use a Senate maneuver called "reconciliation," in which only 51 votes — rather than 60 — would be needed to overcome opposition to a health care bill.
"I think it's a real mistake to try to jam through the total health insurance reform, healthcare reform plan that the public is either opposed to or of very, very passionate mixed minds about," he said. "It's just not good for the system, frankly, it won't be good for the Obama presidency."
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