Forget the Maine?

FORGET THE MAINE?…. How concerned are Democratic leaders about keeping the 60-vote Senate caucus together on health care reform? They’re already making contingency plans, hoping to replace defectors with the Maine Moderates.

Anxious that Saturday’s party-line Senate vote to open debate on a health care overhaul gives them little maneuvering room, Obama administration officials and their Congressional allies are stepping up overtures to select Senate Republicans in hopes of winning their ultimate support.

The two moderate Republican senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, say Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, reached out to them after he unveiled the Senate measure, encouraging them to bring forward their ideas and concerns.

Ms. Collins also received a personal visit from a high-level Obama emissary, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former senator who worked closely with her on various issues as part of a bipartisan coalition.

Now, at first blush, this seems pointless. Probably second blush, too. Snowe and Collins not only oppose the Democratic proposal, they both just voted to filibuster a motion to have a debate on the bill. Collins said yesterday that she’d like to find a way to “rewrite the bill in a way that would cause it to have greater support.” The two may be slightly less conservative than their GOP colleagues, but they don’t exactly sound like prime targets for across-the-aisle outreach.

On the other hand, there are four members of the Democratic caucus — Nelson, Landrieu, Lieberman, and Lincoln — who are being just as obstinate as Snowe and Collins, if not more so. Indeed, all things being equal, it’s probably fair to characterize Snowe as being to Lieberman’s left on health care reform (Lieberman thinks even a trigger would be going too far in generating competition for private insurers).

With this in mind, the outreach to the Maine senators seems to have less to do with asking, “How can we make this vote bipartisan?” and more to do with asking, “What can we do if Lieberman decides to betray us?”

Of course, it’s not just Lieberman. His center-right Democratic cohorts will all make painful demands to undermine the bill. The fact that Snowe and Collins are still on the radar screen, though, signals that the leadership is keeping its options open.