Olympia Snowe didn’t make a liar out of Max Baucus, who had been predicting for months that he would have at least some GOP support when passing his health care reform bill out of the Finance Committee (all along most of us read this as one person: Snowe). For the chairman this must be a huge relief. But Snowe made it clear that her vote for final passage on the Senate floor is not automatic: meaning Dems are going to have to work to keep her support. “My vote today is my vote today,” she said. “It doesn’t forecast what it will be tomorrow.”
But what does one maverick Republican get the Dems? Add her name to the growing list of former Republican leaders (Bill Frist, Bob Dole) and you get some semblance of political cover for vulnerable Dems at the polls next November.
But more importantly, it opens the door – even just a peek – to leveraging Snowe’s vote into widening GOP support. The White House and Harry Reid will now, I’m told, begin courting members such as fellow Mainer Susan Collins, Indiana’s Dick Lugar, George Voinovich of Ohio and Tennessee’s Bob Corker. “We understand this is the first step in that process, and we hope as we go forward that you’ll have members in the House and senators that will continue to work constructively, like Senator Snowe did, in getting a solution for their constituents,” White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said today at his daily briefing.
Added President Obama in the Rose Garden, moments ago: “I want to particularly thank Senator Olympia Snowe for both the political courage and the seriousness of purpose that she’s demonstrated throughout this process. Now, this bill is not perfect, and we have a lot of difficult work ahead of us. There’s still significant details and disagreements to be worked out over the next several weeks as the five separate bills from the Senate and the House are merged into one proposal,” Obama said. “Now’s not the time to pat ourselves on the back. Now’s not the time to offer ourselves congratulations. Now’s the time to dig in and work even harder to get this done. And in this final phase, I hope that we will continue to engage each other with the spirit of civility and seriousness that has brought us this far and this subject deserves.”
Snowe’s continued presence at the table also ensures that Baucus’s draft becomes the base of the final bill (which it was likely to be any way as it comes much closer to the president’s criteria than the HELP bill) and that the final version will be much more centrist if they want to keep her on board. “Is this bill all that I would want?” Snowe asked. “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.”
So, what will keep Snowe happy? She laid out her terms at the hearing: “I have shared my Republican colleagues’ concerns about vast government bureaucracies and governmental intrusions that’s why I opposed the amendment for the so-called public option. I co-authored an amendment with Senator Schumer regarding reducing the threshold for the individual mandate penalty and requiring Congress to review and reassess that mandate all together. I happen to think that’s an issue that we should continue to review and revisit because the onus should be on the government to achieve and accomplish the primary goal of this legislation, which is, of course, affordability. Undeniably affordability continues to remain my paramount concern… Other concerns I have is Medicaid expansion and its implication for future state budgets, Medicare reimbursement particularly as it effects home health care, nursing homes – they won’t realize the benefits that other providers will do because of the reduction in the number of uninsured and uncompensated care and I have other issues as well, it’s not an exhaustive list.” Well, it’s a little bit of an exhaustive list with some whoppers: Jay Rockefeller and his 29 Democratic colleagues that signed a letter supporting the public plan won’t be happy to see it excluded from the bill and Dems are pretty adamant abut cutting Medicare Advantage. So, let the bargaining begin (again).