The senior senator from the state of Maine

THE SENIOR SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF MAINE…. For all the recent talk about trying to strike a “deal” on health care reform, the truth is, the outline of an agreement isn’t hard to imagine.

As Kevin Drum noted yesterday, “In theory, a deal should be fairly easy. Keep the insurance reform stuff and the increased subsidies, dump the public option, add in a few other goodies here and there for both sides, and voila. Dinner is served. But who’s going to join us at the table? Are there any Republicans left who will vote for any healthcare plan at all, regardless of what is or isn’t in it?”

Put aside, at least for now, whether that seems like a worthwhile deal for Democrats, and whether the idea of pursuing a deal has merit. The point is, for all the efforts this year, the barebones of a deal are right in front of lawmakers. Kevin’s question, then, deserves an answer: if there are going to be negotiations, who will join reformers at the table?

Eyes turn to the senior senator from Maine.

As Congress prepares to hit the restart button on the health care debate, Senator Olympia J. Snowe does not relish the prospect of becoming a Group of One.

“I certainly hope not,” exclaimed Ms. Snowe, about the possibility that she could end up as the sole Republican willing to join Senate Democrats in moving ahead on a broad change in health care.

The arithmetic is obvious. There are three Senate Republicans talking about a bipartisan deal. Two of the three — Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Wyoming’s Mike Enzi — have made it painfully clear that they oppose health care reform. Whether Snowe likes it or not, that leaves a Group of One.

The NYT‘s Carl Hulse added, “This has given Ms. Snowe a high degree of leverage as Democrats ask, What does Olympia Snowe want?”

To her credit, Snowe is nowhere close to Grassley’s and Enzi’s position. She believes the status quo really does represent a health care crisis, that the uninsured should be covered, and that those with insurance may not appreciate what’s around the corner. “They may say they are satisfied now,” Snowe told Hulse, “but it is going to get worse, given the skyrocketing increases that are only going to persist. Something needs to be done to remove the deep anxiety that people find themselves in because of the lack of health insurance.”

She even sees the value in a public plan competing with private insurers, though Snowe prefers a “trigger” that would kick in later.

Snowe, in other words, supports some kind of health care reform — which makes her unique in the Republican caucus. The Gang of Six charade has become farcical. If the goal is to strike a deal, the White House should probably go around it and invite her over for a detailed chat.