The big political news story of the day — in fact, one of the biggest arguably in decades — will be the perhaps pivotal Senate Finance Committee vote on health care legislation. And, in that vote, most political eyes will be focused on Maine’s Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. Will she vote for the plan and give it at least a smattering of bipartisan aura? And, if she does, will she face political consequences in her party and perhaps at home?
Or will she vote against it and instantaneously give new and old media pundits a new narrative — about the definitive failure of the Obama administration’s attempt to reach out to the vanishing breed of GOP moderates? And, if she votes against it, will she face political consequences at home and become one more Republican moderate doomed to share the fate of pay telephones?
It’s the 60-vote (million dollar) question. We write, of course, of Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. What will she do? Obviously, she votes for this bill, right? This is the best deal she’ll ever get and she wants to be part of the process, right? This isn’t in doubt, right? She got everything she wanted, right? Nothing will put a damper on the expected passage of the Senate Finance Committee health care reform bill other than a result that does NOT include Snowe voting in the affirmative. She’s the cover the White House needs, NOT for bipartisanship, but for wooing Democrats like Ben Nelson and Tom Carper and Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh. Snowe is today’s most powerful politician in Washington when it comes to health care. Forget Harry Reid, Max Baucus or Barack Obama, her vote today will signal how the process of merging the House and Senate bills go forward. If she votes no, then the power center shifts from the middle to the progressive end of things inside the Democratic Party on this issue. But if she votes yes, then look for Reid to use the Finance Committee bill as the basis for the merged bill in the Senate. Snowe might not be the most charismatic senator but she certainly has a flare for the dramatic.
In Obama and Max Baucus’ Sisyphean push for bipartisanship in health care reform, Maine’s Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe has emerged as one of the most powerful politicians in Washington. A centrist and one of the “Group of Six” in the Senate Finance Committee, Snowe has been wooed by Democrats, lobbyists, and Organizing for America phone banks to repeat her aisle-crossing vote to pass the economic stimulus plan and get on board with health care. Her support could mean 60 votes for the Democrats and a parry of the pesky filibuster. As one with the power to stall the legislative process, she has great sway over the direction of reform.
But as politicians and interest groups buzz around Snowe, as a senator she will always be drawn to her constituents in Maine. Although she is as popular as ever and her re-election is assured whether or not she crosses the aisle, Snowe told the Los Angeles Times that what matters is what Maine voters think. As much as politicians push for Snowe’s support, at the citizen’s level, the power is with the people of Maine. As the LAT article notes, Maine citizens have some of the nation’s highest per capita medical costs in the nation and comprise one of the country’s largest uninsured populations. Constituents inundate Snowe’s office daily with letters and phone calls on the direction of health care reform, and she seems to be listening closely.
But The Hill notes that if she does vote for the panel’s health care reform proposal, there are already rumblings that her party will retaliate:
Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) is risking a shot at becoming the top Republican on an influential Senate committee by backing Democratic healthcare legislation, according to senators on the panel.
A Senate Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said Republicans on the panel are threatening to vote against Snowe, who is in line for the senior GOP post that is about to come open.
“Wake up,” the Democrat told a reporter last week when questioned if the Republicans would retaliate against Snowe for crossing party lines.
Snowe, a potential swing vote on the Senate Finance Committee, could give Democrats a major boost Tuesday when that panel holds a final vote on Chairman Max Baucus’s (D-Mont.) bill. She could also support the bill in the coming weeks on the Senate floor.
“A vote for healthcare would be something that would weigh on our minds when it came time to vote,” said a Republican on Commerce, who said Snowe would otherwise be assured of the ranking member post if not for the healthcare debate.
Every other GOP member of Finance is expected to vote against the healthcare bill.
So place your bets now on how she’ll vote…
UPDATE: The Politico analzyes Snow’s options and consquences if she votes yes and now, says her vote will “drive the fall” and then offers this:
–WHAT SHOULD SHE DO? Two schools of thought: a) If she votes against, she preserves her leverage as it goes to the floor. Otherwise, Reid takes her for granted and moves on to Susan Collins. b) White House argues: “She gets her greatest leverage by voting for it in committee, because then she’s a part of the discussions to merge the bill, because once you have her in committee, you have to keep her for the floor. Because now you’ve committed yourself to a 60-vote track. If she wants to be for something in the end, the worst thing she could do is vote against it in committee, and then allow there to be a sense that it’s headed to reconciliation, and the progressives are going to push incredibly hard for a bunch of things she’s uncomfortable with, like a full public plan.”
–CAVEATS – Snowe has left herself enough room that no matter how she votes today she’ll be able to change it later. A no today can become a yes tomorrow as Snowe continues using her leverage to shape the bill. Conversely, a yes today can switch overnight if she feels leadership stepped all over her concerns while shaping the legislation. As Democrats’ last best hope at winning a GOP vote, Snowe will continue to hold a good deal of sway. If she votes no, some observers may start ringing the reconciliation bell – a rookie mistake, according to some insiders.
UPDATE II: Snowe was the subject on MSNBC’s always intriguging Morning Joe. NBC’s Chuck Todd predicts she’ll vote for it, says if she doesn’t vote for it now she never will, and that if she votes against it “a stomach punch to the White House.” Watch:
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.