Sen. Joe Lieberman was for a Medicare expansion before he was against it.
Democrats circulated video Monday from a Connecticut newspaper's interview in September showing Lieberman voicing support for a so-called Medicare buy-in allowing uninsured people as young as 55 to purchase coverage. The Plum Line blog first reported on the video.
The Connecticut independent, whose vote is critical to the health care reform bill's prospects, had threatened Sunday to join Republicans in opposing health legislation permitting a buy-in. By Monday night his concerns appeared to be carrying the day, with Democrats preparing to jettison the buy-in to win him over, according to several senators.
The video from the September interview with The Connecticut Post shows Lieberman talking about the health care reform proposals he has backed over the years, including during his 2006 re-election campaign.
"My proposals were to basically expand the existing successful public health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid," the senator said.
Lieberman said he was focused on helping older people who needed health insurance get it at more affordable prices.
"When it came to Medicare I was very focused on a group post 50, maybe more like post 55. People who have retired early, or unfortunately have been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and they're too young to qualify for Medicare and what I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare early and again on the premise that that would be less expensive than the enormous cost. "
Asked about the video on Monday, Lieberman said his comments were made before the Senate health care bill, which includes health insurance subsidies, was finalized. The subsidies would make a Medicare buy-in program unnecessary because the people who could benefit would get subsidies instead, he said.
"This was before the Finance Committee came out with its proposal and I was suggesting various ideas for health care reform that did not involve the public option that was the focus at that time," Lieberman told reporters.
Lieberman said he wants to vote for a health care bill.
"But the important thing is, I'm for health care reform, and if we get together we're going to deliver a health care reform bill that will provide the ability to get health insurance to 30 million people who don't have it now," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is hoping to pass health care reform legislation by Christmas, needs 60 votes to overcome Republican objections and had been counting on Lieberman to provide one.
Lieberman, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, has angered many liberals who say he's trying to derail their sweeping health care reform push. Lieberman faces re-election in 2012 in a state where President Barack Obama is popular. He backed GOP Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential contest, a move that drew the wrath of many Democrats.
Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination for re-election the last time he ran, in 2006. He went on to win re-election as an independent. Even so, he retains his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, a post he holds at the pleasure of the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.