President Snowe?

Posted on 14. Oct, 2009 by in Uncategorized

“Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.”

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but that statement from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) preceded her casting a vote in favor of the Senate Finance Committee’s version of a health care reform bill. The 14-9 vote means that all five congressional committees that have jurisdiction over health care have passed legislation, which moves the country one step closer to comprehensive health care reform.

It’s obvious, at least for the moment, that having Snowe vote with the committee was the preferred outcome for Democrats (and especially Max Baucus). They get a win and some momentum going into the stage of the process where the House and Senate bills will be merged.

But was this really the best outcome for supporters of health care reform? There’s a convincing case, made by The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber that it was not, mainly because it gives Snowe far too much power over the process as it progresses:

I think Snowe always intended to vote for a health care bill this year barring some aggressive leftward turn, which the White House and Senate leadership are pretty determined to prevent. So you basically had her vote on the Senate floor even if she didn’t vote for the bill in committee. (Moreover, you could still pass a health care bill even if that’s not right and you didn’t get her vote on the floor. I can’t imagine Snowe voting to sustain a filibuster. And even if she did Democrats probably have 60 votes to break it. On top of which there’s always reconciliation.)

On the other hand, now that Snowe has voted for the bill in committee, she can basically dictate the terms of the final bill. (Anyone wondering about the havoc she might wreak need only look at the stimulus.) That’s because, if you alienate her during the forthcoming negotiations, her defection from the final bill would be disastrous. Just imagine the atmospherics of Olympia Snowe getting up on the Senate floor and saying she was so serious about passing health care reform she voted for it in committee, but that she can no longer support the bill because it’s moved too far to the left. It would be absolutely devastating.

As noted by Suzy Khimm, Snowe seems to want three things at this point: she wants to make the plan more affordable (good!), she wants to open up the health care exchanges so that more people can take advantage of them (better!), and she wants a “trigger” before the public option comes into play (um…what?).

The last issue is going to a major source of contention and could, in fact, lead to some liberals voting against the bill. However, the odds still seemed fairly good that with Max Baucus (representing moderate and conservative Dems), Chris Dodd (representing liberal Dems) and Harry Reid presiding over the process, some version of the public plan might make it into the final bill. But this arrangement, which just came to light today, may tip the scales in the other direction:

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said that Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, the lone Republican on the Finance Committee to vote in favor of the bill, would be invited to future sessions. And Mr. Manley said the Democratic leader was prepared to go to substantial lengths to keep Ms. Snowe’s support.

“He is prepared to do what he can to keep her on board while putting together a bill that can get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster,” Mr. Manley said.

If you’re a liberal, or are just generally in favor of a health care reform with some actual teeth, this is incredibly disheartening. For one, Reid doesn’t actually need Snowe’s vote to pass the bill on the floor (provided certain squeaky wheels get their grease). But more importantly, there’s really just no need to have a bipartisan health care bill. The public doesn’t care if it’s bipartisan; they care that it works. There’s no need to further water down the bill to get the support or Snowe or her party, which has shown repeatedly, that it’s not going to back reform.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), the new darling of the left, summed the situation up last Friday in a speech on the House floor when he said: “I want to remind us all that Olympia Snowe was not elected President last year. Olympia Snowe has no veto power in the Senate.”

He may not be subtle, but he’s right. The Democrats have all the power to get this legislation through. It’s time for them to act like it.

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One Response to “President Snowe?”

  1. Carla

    16. Oct, 2009

    Snowe seems to think that the regulation included in the bill is enough to make the insurance companies lower their costs. Is this true? That’s the next news article that I want to read. There’s a lot that confuses me with this debate. So many factions, I think they’re losing sight of the numbers: 40 million uninsured; roughly 20 million underinsured; another x-million paying premiums out the wazoo.