Snowe’s disappointment

SNOWE’S DISAPPOINTMENT…. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he was moving forward on health care reform with a bill featuring a public option, Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R-Maine) role as the most important person in the known universe was quickly diminished. One approach insisted Reid push a “triggered” public option in order to keep Snowe on board. That’s not the approach the Majority Leader chose.

Not surprisingly, Maine’s senior senator was not pleased. Snowe’s statement yesterday afternoon read:

“I am deeply disappointed with the Majority Leader’s decision to include a public option as the focus of the legislation. I still believe that a fallback, safety net plan, to be triggered and available immediately in states where insurance companies fail to offer plans that meet the standards of affordability, could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate.”

Brian Beutler sees glimmers of hope in this: “How explicit a statement is that, though? I could be over-parsing here, but it sounds to me as if she’s leaving a door pretty wide open to supporting this bill down the line. Note, she doesn’t say she’s withdrawing her support.”

Perhaps, but I suspect Snowe’s “deep disappointment” is her way of distancing herself from the bill. Indeed, just four days before Reid’s announcement, Snowe said, “I’m against a public option.” Asked if she’d join a GOP filibuster on this, Snowe said, “Yes, it would be difficult” to support letting the bill come to the floor for a vote.

In other words, I suspect the key question is no longer, “How do we keep Olympia Snowe happy?” Rather, it’s, “How do we convince Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu to let the Senate vote on health care reform?”

As for Snowe’s argument that the trigger “could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus,” I think there’s ample evidence to the contrary. For one thing, several leading Democrats — Pelosi, Rockefeller, et al — really hate the idea. For another, leading Republicans hate the idea, too. Snowe may have missed it, but just a few weeks ago, Susan Collins, Snowe’s moderate Maine colleague, was asked whether she could support a trigger as a compromise. “No,” Collins said. “The problem with triggers is that is just delays the public option,” and she rejects public-private competition.

Around the same time, the official Republican weekly address told the public, “These so-called healthcare reform bills have different names: a public option, a co-op, a trigger. Make no mistake, these are all gateways to government-run healthcare.”

The trigger measure was never the course to “broader bipartisan consensus” — it was a way to possibly get one GOP vote.