Yesterday afternoon, Senator Olympia Snowe cast her vote for healthcare reform and threw her party (and the punditocracy) into a tizzy. The result? No one knows where to focus their attention. A quick round-up of the situation, after the jump.
The GOP is pissed.
Republicans have for weeks grumbled about punishing Snowe should she vote "yes" at any stage of the lengthy process. One option long discussed: denying her the coveted senior Republican seat on the Senate Commerce Committee.
Snowe is also known for crossing party lines:
Breaking with her party is a role Snowe has played many times, from her vote for Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus bill to her defiance of then-President George W. Bush on a bill to provide health are to millions of uninsured children.
Snowe also was one of the "Gang of 14" Democratic and Republican senators who resolved a standoff over judicial nominations.
Snowe is still in favor of a self-regulating marketplace.
"I think the government would have a disproportionate advantage" in the event of a government-run option, the Maine Republican said on CBS's "The Early Show." But Snowe also said that "at the same time, I want to make sure the insurance industry performs, and that's why we eliminate many egregious practices."
Snowe's leadership could open the door for other Repubs who want to support the bill.
Her endorsement also could give bipartisan cover to moderate Senate Democrats - Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Evan Bayh of Indiana - who are arguably more conservative than Snowe. It also frees the White House to turn its attention to gathering more Republican supporters. A possible target: Snowe's Maine colleague, Sen. Susan Collins.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has the most interesting take on Snowe, weaving both gendered ideas of coyness and flirting as well as comparing her to Brett Farve in his analysis:
Sen. Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, is fast becoming the Brett Favre of the political world: She has trouble making up her mind, but she sure knows how to play ball. [...]
Congress's answer to Favre is Snowe, the wiry New Englander who, for the past several months, has been unable — or unwilling — to take a position on health-care legislation. The longer she held out, the more concessions Democrats made to win her over, to the point where she became, arguably, the single most influential member of Congress drafting the legislation, even though she is a member of the minority party.
Democrats negotiated with her for months; President Obama wooed her personally. Olympia wants amendments? She gets amendments. Olympia needs more time? The Senate Finance Committee delays its vote. Olympia opposes government-run insurance? Voilà — the public option is gone.
The coy routine was working so well for Snowe that, as she walked into the Hart Building on Tuesday morning for the committee vote on the legislation, she claimed she still hadn't made a decision.
"I have certain inclinations," she told the reporters and photographers who mobbed her. And: "I want to hear more." And: "You always learn something new about this bill." And: "I haven't made up my mind." And: "Let's see how the day goes."
Finally, three hours later, the wavering lawmaker was ready to announce her position. Sort of. "Is this bill all that I would want? Is it all that it can be? No," said Snowe. "But when history calls, history calls." After this halfhearted announcement that she was, with "reservations," becoming the only Republican to vote with the Democrats, she added a warning: "My vote today is my vote today. It doesn't forecast what my vote will be tomorrow."
Give that woman a Lombardi Trophy.
Oh, and not surprisingly, the insurance Industry is out for blood.
America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group, opened a fresh line of attack with a multistate advertising campaign warning that senior citizens enrolled in private Medicare plans could lose benefits under the legislation.
"Is it right to ask 10 million seniors on Medicare Advantage for more than their fair share?" the television spot asks. "Congress is proposing $100 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says many seniors will see cuts in benefits."
However, the White House is going to clap back, using the insurance companies as the new foes.
Obama's political operation, Organizing for America, has blasted an email to its massive list targeting the industry as reform public enemy number one. It seizes on that widely-criticized "report" paid for by America's Health Care Plans finding that reform would hike premiums, which handed reform proponents a big opening to cast the industry as a bad-faith actor intent on torpedoing reform to protect profits.
"It's becoming clear that the insurance companies will do whatever it takes to stop progress," reads the email from OFA chief Mitch Stewart, adding that the industry "even commissioned their own slanted analysis of the Finance Committee's legislation in an effort to defeat it."
Most senators appear to be gearing up for a battle royale.
Liberal Democrats, like Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said they would push for a public insurance plan. Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, both Democrats, said they would seek changes to make insurance more affordable to middle-income families. And Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said he wanted to require employers to provide insurance to their employees.
Lacking the powerful rules of the House speaker or the bully pulpit of the presidency, the majority leader's chief job is to herd cats, in this case Senators, each of whom is a powerful figure in his or her own right. When it comes to health care, nearly every Senator in Reid's own party has a provision or a version he or she would like included; Reid's goal is to keep enough of those cats happy and moving in the same direction so that he can pass something before Thanksgiving.
Obviously, we have a long way to go on reform. Here's Olympia Snowe's speech from yesterday, where she discusses why she opposes the public option, and why she supports the bill over all:
Move over Palin! Maine's Snowe is the female maverick in the GOP [Newser]
Snowe: Health care bill a 'good place to start' [AP]
Vote makes Snowe a key player [Politico]
Insurers emerge as Obama's top foe on health [MSNBC/Washington Post]
She May Be on the Other Team, But She Called All the Plays [Washington Post]
Insurance Industry Emerges As White House Public Enemy Number One [The Plum Line]
Republican's Vote Lifts a Health Bill, but Hurdles Remain [NYT]
After a Key Vote, Health Care Now Turns to Harry Reid [Time]