‘History’ is still calling

‘HISTORY’ IS STILL CALLING…. With the health care reform bill seemingly stuck, for now, at “only” 59 votes, there are effectively two additional votes that are considered “in play.” One is Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who’s been showered with attention. The other is Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who isn’t exactly feeling lonely, either.

If there were any doubts that Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine has earned a special place in the hearts of Democrats by being the only Senate Republican to vote for any form of the major health legislation, just consider how she spent her Thursday: First she attended a meeting at the White House for roughly 80 to 90 minutes, a good portion of it one-on-one with President Obama. Later, she and Mr. Obama had a half-hour follow-up call.

By any measure, that is a substantial chunk of the president’s day.

It is, indeed. It’s also a reflection of the fact that the White House believes the White House believes Snowe is at least willing to listen. Indeed, the moderate Maine senator told the NYT that her discussions with the president have been constructive: “We have a chance to share our views. So I get a better understanding of his vantage point, his perspective, where he’s coming from on these issues, and likewise he gets to hear my concerns and what I’m thinking at this moment in time. It helps to keep those lines of communications open. We have good free-flowing, straightforward, constructive, productive conversations…. He’s very familiar, very knowledgeable, very much aware of the circumstances, changing events.”

That’s all very nice. But is she any closer to supporting the bill (or, at a minimum, letting the Senate vote on it)?

Let’s not forget that just two months ago, Snowe broke with her party and supported the Baucus health care bill in the Senate Finance Committee. “Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it,” Snowe told her committee colleagues at the time. “But when history calls, history calls.”

Two months later, history is back on the line, hoping she’ll pick up.

A reader asked me via email last night what I thought the White House and the Senate leadership would have to do to earn Snowe’s support before Christmas. It quickly occurred to me that I have no idea. It was clear what Lieberman wanted (and got). It’s fairly clear what Ben Nelson wants (but can’t have). But even now, Snowe is withholding support, and it’s not altogether clear why.

She supported the Finance Committee bill, but moved away when the bill included a public option (and, later, a Medicare buy-in). But both of those measures have been removed, at Lieberman’s behest.

What is Snowe is holding out for? If there’s a wish list, the senator has kept it awfully quiet.