Maine Event: It's Wait & See With Senator Snowe

Moving into today's vote, Congress is excited that its actually come close to a consensus on health care reform, a feat that has not been accomplished since the Roosevelt Era. But is it enough?

The Washington Post clearly lays out the content of the Finance Bill:

The Finance Committee's bill is the only legislation on the table that meets Obama's objectives of providing coverage to the uninsured and barring insurance discrimination based on sex and preexisting conditions, among other factors - all for less than $900 billion over 10 years, and without adding to the deficit.

Many liberal Democrats, however, view the panel's effort as too meek in key areas, something they say is a reflection of three months of negotiations with Republicans and the moderate leanings of many Democrats on the committee.

The measure does not mandate that businesses provide coverage to their workers. Committee members defeated two versions of a government insurance option. And the bill would tax high-value policies that, to the dismay of many liberal lawmakers, could affect some union households.

Time further explains:

The bill includes consumer protections such as limits on copays and deductibles and relies on federal subsidies to help lower-income families purchase coverage. Insurance companies would have to take all comers, and people could shop for insurance within new state marketplaces called exchanges.

Medicaid would be expanded, and though employers wouldn't be required to cover their workers, they'd have to pay a penalty for each employee who sought insurance with government subsidies. The bill is paid for by cuts to Medicare providers and new taxes on insurance companies and others.

Unlike the other health care bills in Congress, Baucus' would not allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private companies, a divisive element sought by liberals.

Last-minute changes made subsidies more generous and softened the penalties for those who don't comply with a proposed new mandate for everyone to buy insurance. The latter change drew the ire of the health insurance industry, which said that without a strong and enforceable requirement not enough people would get insured, and premiums would jump for everyone else.

Olympia Snowe is widely expected to be the game changer in these debates.

One big question that will be answered with Tuesday's Finance Committee vote is whether Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) will remain at the table as the sole GOP negotiator involved in shaping the legislation as it moves forward. Snowe, a moderate, is promoting a plan that would create government coverage if private insurers do not offer affordable premiums. White House officials have indicated support for her approach, and Obama raised the issue during a phone conversation with the senator on Thursday, while prodding her about her vote. "He definitely was fishing," said Snowe, who remains noncommittal.

Snowe lives and breathes noncommittal. Every time I do a health care post, I ignore the news on Snowe, because it's always some variant on "let's wait and see." However, the Politico is reading the political tea leaves and has provided a guide to Snowe's potential votes and the possible outcomes:

—SNOWE VOTES "YES": Clearly the outcome Baucus is rooting for, as he made a lot of concessions to bring her onboard. The bipartisan nod Snowe brings to the bill strengthens Baucus' hand as he, Reid and Dodd merge the Health and Finance committee bills. Snowe's buy-in makes it easier for Baucus and Reid to sell reform to moderate Democrats – think Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Bayh – who are arguably more conservative than Snowe. And it positions Snowe to grab a bigger seat at the decision-making table as Reid crafts a bill to send to the Senate floor. Not to mention, the headlines all laud Baucus for landing a Republican vote and give Democrats the big mo. Look for Republicans to push back hard against any narrative that suggests one GOP vote makes the bill bi-partisan.

—SNOWE VOTES "NO" – This will be written as a SETBACK for Democrats. For Baucus, this one stings because he put so much time and effort into wooing Snowe for naught. He doesn't get the hero's welcome or a carrot to entice moderate Dems. And the failure to win Snowe's support in Finance will raise questions about whether Baucus and Reid can win her support on the floor. Remember, Sen. Ben Nelson has said he won't vote for an all-Democratic bill and other mods could be jittery without the bipartisan cover she provides. As for the Maine senator, she may find herself with a less influential voice moving forward as Democrats begin to question whether she's really serious about passing reform. The headlines may be the biggest problem for Dems as they'll slow the ‘mo and cast doubts on what should be a very big day for Baucus and reform.

—WHAT SHOULD SHE DO? Two schools of thought: a) If she votes against, she preserves her leverage as it goes to the floor. Otherwise, Reid takes her for granted and moves on to Susan Collins. b) White House argues: "She gets her greatest leverage by voting for it in committee, because then she's a part of the discussions to merge the bill, because once you have her in committee, you have to keep her for the floor. Because now you've committed yourself to a 60-vote track. If she wants to be for something in the end, the worst thing she could do is vote against it in committee, and then allow there to be a sense that it's headed to reconciliation, and the progressives are going to push incredibly hard for a bunch of things she's uncomfortable with, like a full public plan."

—CAVEATS – Snowe has left herself enough room that no matter how she votes today she'll be able to change it later. A no today can become a yes tomorrow as Snowe continues using her leverage to shape the bill. Conversely, a yes today can switch overnight if she feels leadership stepped all over her concerns while shaping the legislation. As Democrats' last best hope at winning a GOP vote, Snowe will continue to hold a good deal of sway. If she votes no, some observers may start ringing the reconciliation bell – a rookie mistake, according to some insiders.

So essentially, Snowe will vote the way she wants to, and has left room open to change her mind. Skillful!

Finally, some unexpected good news from an unlikely source. The insurance companies have finally tipped their hand, releasing a report which threatens a rise in rates if reform is passed. While the ad was intended to squelch support for reform, it actually renewed animosity toward the industry:

The spot is designed to amplify the message - perhaps best delivered yesterday by Congressman Anthony Weiner - that the insurance companies made one of the strongest cases yet for a public option by essentially vowing to raise rates. The report also makes it easier for reform proponents to argue that the industry, which had been making nice with the White House, is a bad-faith actor not to be trusted.

It seems like a potentially big tactical error by the insurance industry, and it'll be interesting to watch how proponents of the public option capitalize on it to pressure the White House and Senate leadership to put a public plan - or some form of it - into the final Senate bill that's being negotiated this week. The public option lives!

We'll know more later. Until then, enjoy this ad created in response to the insurance industry's scare tactic.

As Panel Votes Today, Democrats Look Ahead [Washington Post]
Senate Committee Set For Health-Care Vote [Time/AP]
Snowe 'Aye' Or 'Nay' Today Will Drive The Fall - What She Should Do Tp Preserve Leverage... [Politico]
New Bill Would Raise Rates, Says Insurance Group [Washington Post]