The Most Powerful Senator
The breakdown of the "Gang of Six" talks means that you won't seen Mike Enzi or Chuck Grassley sign onto the final bill. But that doesn't mean it won't have any Republican votes. Olympia Snowe remains a possibility, as does her colleague, Susan Collins. Their presence on the bill would offer enough votes to make the math work, just as happened during the stimulus. In this, Snowe is taking the lead, as her perch on the Finance Committee and membership in the "Gang of Six" has given her a front-row seat to the process.
Snowe's vote, in other words, is important enough to guarantee her virtually anything she wants. The question is, what does Olympia Snowe want?
Suzy Khimm has been trying to ferret out Snowe's views on health-care reform, and comes to something pretty close to my understanding: Snowe is pretty much a moderate Democrat on the issue. Not a conservative Democrat. A moderate one. She's good on coverage. Good on insurance regulation. Skeptical, but not entirely opposed, on the public plan. A compromise along Snowe's lines -- read Khimm for the details -- would be a pretty good, albeit not perfect, compromise. In particular, Snowe's willingness to expand the size of the health insurance exchanges is very heartening indeed.
But at the end of her post, Khimm digs into Snowe's attitude toward reconciliation. "It’s no surprise that Snowe opposes reconciliation," she writes, "but her apparent rationale is telling: it’s not just because of its political significance, but also because it could only be applied to part of the current bill. Snowe shares the fears of some members of the liberal, pro-reform camp that doing this could significantly curtail the impact of reform."
That, however, is entirely in her power. If she signs onto the final bill, the Democrats easily clear 60 and the bill does not need to go through reconciliation. If she does not sign onto the bill, the Democrats might not be able to break the filibuster, and they will need to go through reconciliation. The question here is not what Olympia Snowe believes. It's what she will do. At this point, health-care reform can be anything Olympia Snowe wants it to be.
Photo credit: Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post
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