By Dick Morris on August 26, 2009

Published in The New York Post on August 26, 2009

Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s criticism of the Obama health-care initiative may prove to be a pivotal turning point.

Others have focused exclusively on the Obama plan’s impact on health care. The elderly worry about bearing the brunt of the inevitable rationing; others look with alarm at the de facto socialization of one-sixth of our economy.

But Lieberman’s critique doesn’t center on the program’s health-care aspects or even on its ultimate desirability. Rather, he questions the wisdom of attempting so radical a transformation and so extensive — and expensive — an extention of government’s role in our economy during a major recession attended by a huge budget deficit.

His go-slow commentary integrates worries about the economy, the deficit and interest rates with those about the health-care proposal itself. In making this linkage, Lieberman cautions supporters of the idea and of the plan that this might not be the right time to try to do it all.

His comments come at a time when the Congressional Budget Office predicts a growth in the 10-year deficit projection to $9 trillion and when Americans are growing increasingly nervous about the massive debt we are incurring.

Few buy the president’s argument that spending $1 trillion extra will cut the deficit and rein in spending. The very notion is so counter-intuitive that it is hard to give it any credibility.

The elderly may worry about the reform bill’s cuts of $500 billion in Medicare and Medicaid over the ensuing decade; conservatives may fret over socialization of health care. But the average American can relate most easily to the concerns over the size of the debt and the deficit that Lieberman articulates.

This also gives moderates a place to go in the health-care debate. Caught in the tug between the liberals who dominate Democratic primaries and the more conservative voices that may prevail in November, centrist Democrats can rally easily around Joe Lieberman’s “not now” approach.

It is obvious that, despite the Obama majorities in Congress, this is the exact wrong time to embark on a major new government spending program.

By expressing the obvious — that this is a time for retrenchment, not for expansion of the public sector — Lieberman may even have given President Obama an avenue of escape, permitting him to accept a scaled-back, phased-in program that might attract bipartisan support.

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