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What Leverage Do Republicans Have on Olympia Snowe?

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Whatever Chuck Grassley wants to do, he can't get away from two facts. First, he is facing a Republican primary challenge in his 2010 reelection campaign. Second, his term as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee is coming to an end, and he needs the favor of his party leadership to smoothly transition to ranking member of Judiciary or Budget. Both of these point in the direction of hard conservatism. And anyone confused by Grassley's apparent abandonment of health-care reform needs to confront another fact: He's a fairly staunch conservative, and always has been. That pretty much explains Grassley's actions. There's no mystery.

Not so with Olympia Snowe. According to a variety of sources, Olympia Snowe could pretty much write the bill at this point. According to a variety of sources and her record, she believes health-care reform to be a good and necessary idea, at least as she would compose it. But she's concerned about being the only Republican to vote for Barack Obama's health-care reform plan. Right now, the Obama administration is in intensive negotiations with her office, and the outcome is, according to all involved, uncertain. But why?

Snowe is not up for reelection until 2012, so there's no immediate threat. Moreover, she's a wildly popular politician in a deeply blue state. If her party attempted to exact revenge, she could easily become a Democrat, or follow Joe Lieberman's example and emerge as an independent. She's the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, but surely the Democrats would let her keep that in exchange for her vote. She's moderate enough that the switch wouldn't be particularly jarring, and the fact that it came in the context of a policy priority rather than a primary challenge would make it a lot more respectable than Specter's defection.

Social pressure obviously matters a lot, and personal attachment, and there are probably other factors I'm not considering. But on the other side of the ledger is health-care reform! It's covering 40 million people, and saving lives, and averting medical bankruptcy, and making the system better for millions and millions of people. And it could be Snowe's legacy more than anyone else's. She could break the gridlock that has paralyzed this issue for decades. That's history-book stuff. Surely it's worth something.

Photo credit: Olympia Snowe's Senate Web site

By Ezra Klein  |  September 2, 2009; 5:41 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Comments

".... She's moderate enough that the switch wouldn't be particularly jarring,"

Perhaps not to you, but to her husband, the last Republican governor of Maine, probably something of a shock.

Posted by: davis_x_machina | September 2, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Who is she offsetting? Nelson?
Are we just assuming one and only one democratic defector?

Posted by: adamiani | September 2, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

There was a time when Ezra thought clearly. Alas, being at WaPo -- or something else, I know not what -- has severely clouded his judgment.

Snowe is on the record as being against a robust public option.

Anyone who thinks that health care reform goes anywhere in a progressive direction without the public option has paid NO attention to the actual outcome of the sell out to Big PhRMA (no native Medicare Prescription Drug Program) and Big Insurance (wildly unjustified subsidies to Medicare Advantage programs) in the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act.

The test is simple. As a result of what they were able to achieve in 2003 -- and which Obama has now already further entrenched with his backroom deal with PhRMA) -- does Ezra really think we can possibly be going in the right direction by caving on the public option? Does he even know how to spell the word "o-l-i-g-o-p-o-l-y"? Does he know that that the Gang of Six -- including Olympia Snowe whether it's because she's a fool or a knave -- is engaged in an enterprise to further entrench these oligopolies?

One despairs when even Ezra starts acting like a Republican and says, in effect, "Well, facts don't really matter and should not be taken into account when we're considering what needs to be, or is possible, to be done."

Obama is still in a position to do the right thing, and get his way, through budget reconciliation. Will he? No. And he'll apparently be supported in his cave in by the sort of "reasoning" that Ezra is engaging in.

Posted by: billyblog | September 2, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

It makes me so happy that, after Americans elected 60 Dem senators and gave Obama 365 EVs, that a Republican gets to determine what, if any, health care reform there is. Way to go, Reid!

Posted by: AZProgressive | September 2, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse

"But on the other side of the ledger is health-care reform! It's covering 40 million people, and saving lives, and averting medical bankruptcy, and making the system better for millions and millions of people."

You presume that whatever Olympia Snowe wants must be good and also that it would be near-universal. She could want to hand the public a crapsandwich. Democrats have already showing a willingness to give the public a crapsandwich and I don't see a reason to hold a Republican in even higher esteem than the Democrats particularly as nobody knows where she stands.

Posted by: SpanishInquisition | September 2, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Having watched my state's senator, Max Baucus, chase panting after Grassley in circles, I cannot tell you what goes on in the mind of a senator. I think it sounds much like a dial tone.

Posted by: glewiss | September 2, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

you write:
"She's the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, but surely the Democrats would let her keep that in exchange for her vote."

I don't know about that. She's only the Ranking Minority Member; in the Dem caucus, Levin, Harkin, Kerry, and Lieberman are more senior than she is.

Posted by: andrewlong | September 2, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

After Sen Specter switched parties, Sen Snowe wrote an op-ed (forget where) that was critical of the direction the conservative movement was heading. She pointed out that there was no longer any room for moderates and how much she regretted that Sen Specter felt compelled to leave. Someone asked her a few days later if she would consider switching to the Democratic party and she emphatically said no. She said that she's been a Republican all of her life, wasn't about to change now. I took her at her word then and I still believe it.

I live in Maine and after her stimulus vote, letters to the editor in the Bangor Daily News, ripped her to shreds! She was accused of being a "turncoat", a "Dem in GOP clothing", etc and those sentiments continue be expressed on occasion, even today. She had her heart in the right place when she voted for that bill, but many up here still don't agree.

She's a tough lady though and I'm hoping she sticks to her guns and does the right thing for the country once again.

Posted by: NoBillary1 | September 2, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

The Gang of Six is ging way to the Gang of One. But the game hasn't changed: It's still Lucy and the football, with Obama in the role of Charlie Brown.

Snowe is one of the main apologists for the public option "trigger" that will never be triggered. She is very close to industry. (I'm convinced that the Gang of Six was designed from the outset to be a de facto industry working group.) She is not who I want to have brokering health care reform.

This should be a party line vote on a solid bill with the public option. If some want to filibuster or vote against their own party, let them show their true colors.

Posted by: bmull | September 2, 2009 10:21 PM | Report abuse

She is ONE F******G vote. Why would Obama turn his back to his whole base, just to get one lousy GOP vote?

I just don't get it.

Posted by: impikk | September 3, 2009 7:15 AM | Report abuse

You have to realize Erza doesn't care what's in the bill, he's going to call it great no matter what. He just wants the dems to pass a bill any bill and call it a win. He'll crow it's a win for the country, but we'll know better. It will be a windfall for the insurance companies. Obama already sold us out.

Posted by: obrier2 | September 3, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I don't think Grassley officially has a primary opponent yet - but Bill Salier, a total hatemonger (mexicans especially but also gays) has been making threats. See:

http://iowaindependent.com/13888/salier-grassley-could-be-primaried

Posted by: Drew_Miller_Hates_IDs_That_Dont_Allow_Spaces | September 3, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and yeah Snowe should just become a Dem. There isn't any practical reason for her to be a Republican, since her own party hates her and we would love her. She'd coast to reelection until she died and she'd also probably end up as an average Dem like Specter.

Posted by: Drew_Miller_Hates_IDs_That_Dont_Allow_Spaces | September 3, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

If she helps write a good bill - and then is the decisive vote for its passage - could she be the greatest living senator? Could Olympia Snowe become the next Ted Kennedy? I would buy a poster of her and have it framed

Posted by: eglabe19 | September 3, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

It's fascinating that Ezra wants to threaten the Blue Dogs to bring them into line, but with Olypia Snowe he's kissing her feet.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 3, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

"She'd coast to reelection until she died..."

She's egardless of what party she belonged to...and she's married, literally, to the institutional (i.e. non-crazy) Maine state GOP in the person of ex-Gov. John McKernan.

There are no conceivable scenarios unser which she changes to Dem. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada, Rien.

Posted by: davis_x_machina | September 3, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

"She'd coast to reelection until she died..."

She's egardless of what party she belonged to...and she's married, literally, to the institutional (i.e. non-crazy) Maine state GOP in the person of ex-Gov. John McKernan.

There are no conceivable scenarios unser which she changes to Dem. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada, Rien.

Posted by: davis_x_machina | September 3, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

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