Obama Goes Fishing For Snowe's Vote

As a moderate Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, R-ME, is no stranger to bipartisan pressure, both from Senate leadership, as well as the ultimate pressure – from the President, regardless of party.  And today, Snowe got just that.

The senator said she spoke with Obama earlier and that he was fishing for her committee vote, “Oh definitely, he was fishing,” the senator said, laughing.  And the President, according to Snowe, did not get anything more than reporters have gotten on that front.

Snowe says she has not decided how she will vote Tuesday in the Finance Committee, though she is clearly heartened by the CBO score that keeps the cost of the bill below $900 billion and pays $81 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund.

In committee, Snowe argued passionately on the first day of debate for having the legislative text and full CBO score before any committee vote. The chairman said that would result in a delay of two weeks or more, refusing the Republican-authored request.

The preliminary nature of the CBO score still has Snowe concerned – enough that she is planning on talking to CBO Director Doug Elmendorf today or soon.  “The numbers are promising…but the policy is really the platform for those numbers. I want to make sure what the comfort level is from the CBO Director,” Snowe said.

Comforting Snowe is a letter sent this week to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, by eight of his centrist Democrats urging him to make the legislative text and final CBO score available on the Web 72 hours before the Senate takes its first vote on healthcare, a procedural motion that will require 60 votes just to start debate on the bill.

“We have the fail-safe mechanism of the motion to proceed that will require 60 votes, since the Democratic centrists have written to the Senate Majority Leader,” Snowe said.

But it might not be that “fail-safe.”  A spokesman for Reid would not give the Leader’s position on the centrist request, and the moderate Democrats who authored the letter have not committed to voting against the procedural maneuver.

Snowe said Obama also brought up her plan to implement a government-run insurance plan as a “fall back” or “trigger”, in the event middle-income Americans do not find affordable insurance with the new reforms.

“He brought up the trigger. He obviously has to grapple with people in his own party on questions, because he is adopting positions that aren’t consistent with the views of members of his party with respect to, you know, the public option.”

This “public option” safety net, according to Snowe, can happen “concurrently” with the reforms as they are implemented, with constant measurement of reform effectiveness, and would require that the government negotiate in the marketplace as private insurance companies do, not at Medicare reimbursement rates which are lower in less-populated areas.

One problematic note for Democrats, Snowe does not look favorably on one compromise “public option” proposal that is emerging from Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE, that would essentially leave the implementation of government-run insurance to the states.  Some moderate Democrats, who have heretofore been opposed to public option, have said this idea intrigues them, particularly some who are former governors.

“I prefer the other method which is a fall-back, safety net plan in the event the insurance industry does not perform,” Snowe said, noting that she has not yet decided if she will offer the “fall-back” government insurance option on the Senate floor as an amendment.

“I think that all depends on where I am by then and where everybody else is and whether or not it can be useful.”


I would have preferred the legislative language in conjunction with the conceptual language, but we also know this bill will be merged with the HELP (cmte) bill. And that will require legislative language and the final score, because ultimately we’ll have a vote on the motion to proceed and that does require 60 votes.  So, I know that 8 Democrats have also indicated, in their letter to the Senate Majority Leader, that there should be the final score.”

“I would like to talk to the CBO Director in terms of what his impressions are, in terms of how he evaluated it and whether or not there would be a major difference between the final scores and the preliminary analysis.”

“We have the fail-safe mechanism of the motion to proceed that will require 60 votes since the Democratic centrists have written to the Senate Majority Leader.”

“He said that (public option) would be something for later down the road.”

She will not be in on Reid’s negotiations/merger talks.

“We’ve got many miles to go.”

Q: How much pressure from Republican leadership?

“We’ve had discussions with the leader…and others. It’s a difficult issue for me, as well as for them.”

Q:  Concerned about backlash?

“I have to focus on the issue, determining what’s in the best interest of the country.”

“On the public option,  I don’t agree with having it in this bill.”

Q:  They’ve asked you to please not vote for this bill?

“I think it’s no secret about their preferences here.”

Q:  When do you pull the trigger on “the trigger”?

“That would come later in the process.”

“I think that all depends on where I am by then and where everybody else is and whether or not it can be useful.”