Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has been bitten once by Democrats, but the question that remains is whether she will be twice as shy when the Senate passes judgment on a health care reform bill later this month.
Snowe remains one of the most coveted votes by the White House and Senate Democratic leaders because she would represent the scent of bipartisanship in the face of a nearly united GOP opposition. But her role in the process became less prominent after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decided to pursue a Democrat-only strategy in bringing the measure to the floor.
In an interview Thursday, Snowe said she has been repeatedly disappointed, and even angered, at times by the decisions Reid and the White House have made in pursuing passage of the complex and far-reaching bill. Snowe was the lone Senate Republican to support a health care reform plan this year. She sought a delicate compromise with Democrats on the Finance Committee in supporting that package, but when Reid melded that bill with a competing measure, he brushed aside her one demand and put forth a plan that contained a public insurance option.
Asked whether her relationship with Reid has suffered because of his tactical decisions, Snowe said, “I put everything in perspective. And I understand that everybody has a role to play and has their obligations. At the end of the day, you have to do what you think is right and follow your own radar, and you can’t depend on anybody, frankly.—
Snowe had hoped Reid would decide to include her proposal to establish a “trigger— for the public insurance option when he merged the Finance package with a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions measure. Instead, he chose a public option from which states could opt out, rather than first giving private companies the chance to reduce health care costs on their own, as her plan would do.
Not only did Reid choose a public option, he also described Snowe as “frightened— of the public option during the Oct. 27 press conference in which he announced his decision.
“I thought it was diminishing, the role and the risk that I took. I didn’t know anybody else taking that risk … at that point in time,— Snowe said, adding, “It is not easy frankly, you know, to play the role that I did in the Finance Committee standing alone. And I just thought that was diminished in the way that he, you know, expressed, you know, my views towards a public option.—
She added that she expressed her surprise at Reid’s comments to him and that he apologized.
One well-placed Senate Democratic source said Reid’s decision to choose a public option over the trigger in his $848 billion package will likely make Snowe’s vote more difficult to secure because of the distrust it appears to have bred.
But Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) defended Reid’s decision as necessary given the politics among his fellow Democrats.
[IMGCAP(1)]“Harry Reid had a tough decision because overwhelmingly his caucus supported the public option and he gave an opt-out to satisfy those who were opposed to it,— Durbin said. “I think it was a reasonable position. Sen. Snowe saw it differently.—
Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau said Reid “has the utmost respect for Sen. Snowe as a legislator. He is pleased with what they’ve been able to accomplish working together and looks forward to continuing to work with her to meet the challenges the country faces.—
Of course, Snowe remains the darling of Democratic centrists who have continued to meet with her and solicit her input on how to craft a proposal that she could support. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) has said repeatedly that his party will “rue the day— if they do not secure Snowe’s support. Even Reid has said that Snowe is the only true GOP moderate in the Senate.
“There are ongoing conversations with Sen. Snowe. She’s a very valuable part of this Senate body and shown an interest in communicating and talking back and forth about the issues,— said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a centrist who has said it would be easier for him to support the bill if it had some support from Republicans. “I’m sure her phone’s very busy.—
But Snowe said Friday that she hasn’t been provided with any solid proposals as of yet, because Democrats are still arguing among themselves about what the Democratic Conference can get behind.
Snowe’s vote continues to be crucial to passage of the bill. Though the Conference is 60 Members strong — enough to beat back a filibuster — Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) has expressed opposition to all forms of the public option, including Snowe’s trigger plan. However, it’s unlikely Reid will bend over backward for her vote, unless Lieberman is unmovable.
Still, she said she can envision a scenario where some form of her trigger proposal prevails, saying it is “very possible— Democrats will adopt that as their consensus. Already, Carper has been floating a version of the trigger he has dubbed “the hammer.—
But Snowe has clearly been irked by what she sees as the Democrats repeated missteps throughout the process, and she had particularly pointed criticisms of President Barack Obama’s leadership.
Saying she appreciated that Obama has reached out to her repeatedly, Snowe said she has seen a lack of commanding leadership from the president during this debate and indicated that his intervention might have helped to convince Reid to choose her trigger over the public option.
“I do believe the president should weigh in. … I think that’s accentuated the problems that we’re facing now as well,— Snowe said.
She added, “Leadership is driving the train. It’s not being the caboose on the train and I think … if this is the president’s highest domestic priority, beyond the jobs issue, then clearly it matters what the outcome is. So if it does, then he needs to be there — not every day — but to drive it to shape it.—
Snowe, who is second in line to become Finance chairman, said she has not really thought about the consequences she might face in her own party if she breaks ranks again to support the bill on final passage, saying it’s “possible— she could be denied a chairmanship because of her positions.
“I can’t worry because this issue is too big,— she said. “I understand the implications. … I share a lot of positions within the Republican Party about this in the context of this issue. In fact, I’m more in keeping with their views than I think I am even with the Democrats’ views in terms of expanding government.—
Regardless of her reservations about the process and the policies included in the bill, Snowe said she is heartened that the “historic— debate has gotten as far as it has.
“I think the stakes are high. Stakes are high for the country, stakes are high for the president, both parties, Congress, certainly for each of us who has to cast a vote on the question and the role that we play,— she said.
But regardless of whether Democrats adopt her policy suggestions, Snowe said she is committed to being a constructive part of the debate for the foreseeable future.
“I will do everything I can to help make it better,— she said. “Whether I can support it at the end is another question, I simply don’t know. … I certainly can’t support this version.—