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The Most Powerful Senator

profile.snowe.jpgThe 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

By Ezra Klein  |  September 2, 2009; 10:58 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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The entire premise of this piece is mistaken. The Dems don't need Snowe to pass Health Care. They will have the 60 votes to beat a filibuster on round #1. Kennedy's replacement will be in place, Byrd will be hauled in on a stretcher. They can pass the easy part, insurance regulation and reform on Bill #1, and will easily have the votes for that, and easily have the votes to beat any filibuster. Bill #2 will pass under reconciliation and will have the 51 votes to pass the hard part. Olympia Snowe is not seriously interested in reform, she is interested in serving her corporate sponsors. So let her serve them.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | September 2, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I don't think that the Democrats would have 60 votes if only they had Senator Snowe's support. Snowe and Collins cannot compensate for Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad.

Posted by: GCReptile | September 2, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

"Skeptical, but not entirely opposed, on the public plan."

That brings up a comment Senator Hatch made recently regarding Utah and Montana not being Massachusetts. I'm of the belief that a nationwide "public option" simply won't work (and would cause enough of a stir to doom the rest of this legislative term), but that there might be something that could work. Is there no focus now on any sort of revised bill?

Posted by: rmgregory | September 2, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse


not to mention the assumption that Lieberman is on board when on CNN's State of the Union he was against the public option. I think Ezra's being overly optimistic on having 60 pro public option votes.

I'd love to see somewhere a tally on each senator and where someone expects they stand on this most critical issue to both sides.

Posted by: visionbrkr | September 2, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Great post, but shouldn't it be "she writes" instead of "he writes" in this sentence:

...that Snowe opposes reconciliation," he writes, "but her apparent rationale...


Posted by: jborthwick | September 2, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Let's make the distinction between 60 filibuster votes vs. 60 yes votes on a bill. Big difference.

Some blue dogs might vote against a bill but that doesn't mean they are going to vote for a filibuster. When Conrad's office was asked that question, there was a direct answer, "No to public option, and no to filibuster. "

Posted by: cmpnwtr | September 2, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Isn't the real issue here that Conrad wants a bill that will ensure the profitability of insurance companies and hospitals? And he wants the political cover of bipartisanship to accomplish this?

Posted by: tmorgan2 | September 2, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I remember reading Snowe's opposition to 'employer benefit tax'. Is that correct? But in any case Dems are not eager at all for taxing any type of employer medical benefits.

Posted by: umesh409 | September 2, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, it's the Olympia Snowe health reform? The WH will sell his whole base for her vote? This is beyond sad.

Posted by: impikk | September 2, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

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