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Olympia Snowe Vs. Ben Nelson


A lot of people are concerned that Sen. Olympia Snowe is going to have an outsized role on health-care reform. It's a fair concern. Indeed, it's a virtual certainty. But it's worth comparing Snowe's outsized role to the alternative: Ben Nelson, the 60th least-liberal Democrat, being in the driver's seat on health-care reform.

Snowe represents Maine, which gave 58 percent of its vote to Barack Obama. Nelson represents Nebraska, which gave 57 percent of its vote to John McCain. Polls out of Maine show heavy support for health-care reform in general, and the public option in particular. Polls out of Nebraska show heavy opposition to health-care reform in general, and the public option in particular.

In other words, you'd much rather have the crucial moderate hailing from Maine than from Nebraska.

Now, representational concerns are often less important than partisan concerns: Tom Harkin wants a liberal health-care bill while Chuck Grassley wants a conservative health-care bill, even though both of them represent Iowa. In that case, party and ideology is clearly stronger than constituency. But Snowe has already proven her willingness to break with her party on health-care reform, so it's fairly clear that her personal politics, and those of her state, are more determinative than her party's desires.

If that's indeed the case, then Snowe's state is much more liberal than Nelson's state, and Snowe, by most accounts, is more liberal than Nelson, at least on health care. The compromise she's likely to detail will probably be substantially to the left of the compromise Nelson is likely to detail. In addition to that, she's already got her fingerprints on the Senate Finance Committee's bill, and won't feel like she has to move that document to the right to demonstrate the fruits of her involvement. Nelson hasn't been involved in any of the bills, and would probably attempt to broker a whole new compromise if he were the decisive vote.

Photo credit: By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post

By Ezra Klein  |  October 15, 2009; 11:57 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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If our country is going to be governed by "reasonable moderates," I'd much rather have a moderate who proves their reasonable nature by conceding to the left than one who proves it by conceding to the right.

Posted by: WHSTCL | October 15, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Olympia Snowe is one of the last, if not the last, of a dying breed of moderate Northeastern Republicans. Her tradition dates from the pre-JFK, or maybe even pre-FDR, days when "Democrat" was a dirty word in the rural Northeast just as "Republican" used to be a dirty word in the old South. If she were enterting politics today with the policies she's traditionally supported, it wouldn't be on the Republican side.

She's often lumped in with Susan Collins, her fellow Republican senator from Maine, but Collins is younger and much more of a GOP footsoldier, with a pre-Senate background as a Washington operative that Snowe lacks. Snowe's inclination is to be as liberal as anyone in the GOP can be without losing power in terms of committee assignments, etc.

So yes, it's much better to have Snowe wielding influence here than Nelson. If Nelson's a Democrat, I'd hate to see the Republican who ran against him.

Posted by: csdiego | October 15, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

true, but Nebraska can split their electoral votes and it did in November, for the first time ever, and Omaha went Democrat for the first time in 44 years. Omaha is, incidentally, where all the money/fund-raising against Nelson would come from.

Posted by: ThomasEN | October 15, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that "give Nelson an outsized role" is not an alternative. Our system of governance is designed to be non-parliamentary; we have so many checks in part because of this. The parties are not supposed to operate in lockstep-- there are supposed to be individual defectors by design. When this fails to happen, as in the current case, you give outside power to the small handful that are willing to deal and distort the whole process.

Posted by: adamiani | October 15, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

This is a false choice. Ben Nelson can vote against HCR for all anyone cares--he just can't vote against cloture. Leadership should make clear that anyone who votes against cloture will have the sky fall on them.

I also think Dems should make clear that they're going to primary Snowe hard if she doesn't play ball on this. Turn the tables, so to speak.

Posted by: bmull | October 15, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Uh. Ben Nelson is not an alternative to Snowe. He will have an outsize role *in addition* to her having an outsize role. As will Landrieu, Carper, Lieberman, Lincoln, etc. Somewhere along the way apparently the White House and Congressional leadership decided not to go the reconciliation route and thus they've put themselves in a bind of letting people like Nelson dictate whether a health reform bill gets 60 votes for cloture or not.

Posted by: redwards95 | October 15, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

"Ben Nelson, the 60th least-liberal Democrat"

That can't be right—that would make him the *most* liberal, no?

Posted by: tomemos | October 15, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

The only reason to discuss 60 is in the context of the filibuster, and in a rational world Nelson's and Snowe's party affiliations would be all-important there. I.e., Nelson would have strong institutional pressures brought down on him to vote for cloture regardless of his actual vote on the bill itself, and thus you'd rather have Nelson as the 60th than Snowe. Then once cloture is over, who cares if either one of them votes for it? The important Senator then will be the 51st.

Of course, the sad part is it looks like Lieberman might be the 60th.

Posted by: gedwards1 | October 15, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

that makes sense. good good.

Posted by: schaffermommy | October 16, 2009 12:45 AM | Report abuse

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