Senator Olympia Snowe 'On the Record'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 28, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Everyone sure wants her vote. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe is known for being moderate. Does she think the Democrats want to work with Republicans? We went to Capitol Hill and Senator Snowe went "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you.

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, R - MAINE: Nice to see you, Greta, thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I'm glad you the clothing memo today.

SNOWE: Exactly.


VAN SUSTEREN: What good fortune for me.

Anyway, last night, big speech, president's State of the Union. And he said this, "But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know."

One of the criticisms the Democrats have had of Republicans you have no ideas and you are not helping. Republicans say we are cut out of the deal. What is it?

SNOWE: It is interesting he posed that question, because I had given a number of ideas in the direction that health care should take, and unfortunately those ideas weren't incorporated. In fact, it went into a radically different direction since the time I voted for the package in the finance committee.

At that point hit considerable concerns, but I thought it deserved continuing the process and seeing what we could do to build the bridges and build the consensus.

VAN SUSTEREN: There seemed to be a couple issues and a couple layers in health care. One is the substance of it, but the second part is whether or not Republicans are included in the discussion or not?

I talked to Democrats and they say Republicans are obstructionists. I talk to Republicans and they say they won't even include us. You have been in a unique position for a little while in December where you seemed to be able to talk to Democrats. Are the Republicans included in this discussion or not?

SNOWE: They haven't been. They might have been obviously earlier on in the process. There might have been conversations obviously with the White House and in the leadership. Those initial conversations might have taken place whether or not health care would be on the agenda. I don't know.

But I do know there were several Republican who were in the Finance Committee that were working in the group of six with Chairman Baucus, and to his credit he tried to build bipartisanship at that point.

Unfortunately, the issue continued to be driven by artificial deadlines. I said from the outset, forget the deadlines. Let's just discuss how we can build strong support for the right policy in crafting health care.

Health care is a complex issue and not to mention costly. We had to get it right, there are so many facets to it. But unfortunately, they were really obsessed by arbitrary timetables that did not fit the complexity of the issue and the scale of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why were the Democrats so concerned about the timetables?

SNOWE: It's all inside the beltway conventional wisdom. You can only do it one year, the first year of the two years because the second year, this year, is obviously an election year.

And I pointed out to the Democrats and the president you don't have to abide by the time table. We're all in this working on it together. Get it right.

I don't know what possessed them to think that you could accomplish such a major initiative under a very shortened timetable. We were criticized in the Finance Committee during the summer we were taking too long. I said it's obvious people aren't familiar with health care.

We were doing it the right way. We weren't concentrating on politics. We were concentrating on policy. And so we would ask question after question to get answers, really trying to examine each facet and each issue. And the more we unraveled, you know, the various layers of health care, we learned how complex it was, and it took more time.

Those are the types of questions that should be asked by every member of the United States Senate. That wasn't happening.

So people understood that rightfully. The American people figured it out. It is one thing for them -- my constituent said to me, it is one thing for us not to fully understand everything in legislation, but we truly expect our elected officials to do that.

And they knew that the Senate was not fully understanding the complexities in and the scope of the legislation.

VAN SUSTEREN: So am I right, and this may be oversimplifying, but first of all, every Republican I've spoken to wants some health care reform. That's a given, right? And every Democratic senator wants to do something to fix it.

But what has derailed to the extent it is derailed now is the urgency or the deadlines that the Democrats pushed and the complexity. Is that the sum of the problem, you can't accomplish it in that time?

SNOWE: Yes. It was first of all that and then the breadth of the legislation. It was more expansive even from the time it passed the Finance Committee on October 13th. Since that time they added 1,200 more pages, they added more taxes, Medicare payroll tax for example, then they doubled it and that would really impact small businesses.

They required an employer mandate to offer health insurance. Those are major policies.

Then all the fundamental questions, exactly what was this going to accomplish for the average American in terms of premiums, co-pays, and deductibles? For small businesses, what would be the lowest cost plain in the exchange?

Then beyond that was the backroom deals, behind closed doors, most of which occurred since October 13th, since we voted on the Finance Committee, all behind closed doors. There was no transparency. And virtually no amendments we offered on the floor of the Senate because we would denied that opportunity to improve it.

I was part of so many conversations and meetings, but nothing ever translated into substantive policy changes. Rather they concentrated on trying to negotiate these special agreements where states were exempted from the compliance with national policy, which is totally unprecedented.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is health care now dead or at least this particular bill?

SNOWE: I think particular legislation, it's going to be very difficult to reach an agreement even within, I think, the Democratic caucus in both the House and Senate to accept this legislation one way or the other. It may not be liberal enough for some and far too liberal for others.

And so whether or not the Senate bill could be accepted by the House I think really remains a very open question. I think other colleagues would like to see a modest, scaled back version of pieces that we all agree we could support, insurance reforms, and so on. It could make a difference.

And I think we should still be committed to trying to figure out a framework that would work. There are some workable pieces that are practical. That's what I was saying to the president, let's be practical.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how did he respond?

SNOWE: He was actually -- on a lot of issues, it's interesting -- he was trying -- he understood the substance, he understood some of the issues. He wanted to accomplish this goal. And I think, you know, at this point I think the president probably realizes that maybe he should have weighed in earlier in this process. I don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why didn't you think he did?

SNOWE: That's a good question. I don't know if he thought that -- I know that he thought that he could weigh in during the House-Senate conference. I felt that was too late. It might not have been too late for him, but too late for me. I said if I couldn't influence the process in the Senate, it would be very difficult to exercise an influence in a House- Senate conference.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think from a spectator on the outside, when the deal was cut with Nebraska and also everyone wakes up to find out why did Nebraska get this deal? And then the meeting at the White House where the unions got the special deal and the small businesses didn't get it with the Cadillac health care plans, that's when it became enormously difficult to sell the American people any further.

SNOWE: That's exactly right. That's what I heard from my constituents. I think that manifested itself in the results of the election in Massachusetts of the new Senator Scott Brown. That's absolutely right, because it wasn't the right way to proceed. They saw these special deals.

And they were sweetheart deals that eroded the public's confidence, but also creating inequities, pitting states against states and regions upon regions and that really would impose unfair taxes on other taxpayers to really absorb the costs from those states that would be exempted whether from Medicare Advantage policies or from the Medicaid policies, and so on.

There's no patience for sitting around a table and trying to work through a number of issues. Rather there's this impetus, get it done, and we'll work out the problems later. I just didn't think that was an acceptable approach.

I understood that health care affects everybody and you just have to sort through these issues. It takes time. I pointed out time and again, Medicare took a year and a half when it was enacted. That was then and this is now.

Given these tumultuous times, unprecedented in many ways economically for this country, and the American people saw what has happening, and they've expressed their outrage.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you.

SNOWE: Thank you Greta.


VAN SUSTEREN: There is much more of our interview with Senator Olympia Snowe, but we'll post the entire interview on tomorrow.

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