Snowe Unlikely to Buck Gang to Cut White House Deal
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) appears unlikely to walk away from bipartisan health care reform talks in the Senate Finance Committee to cut a side deal with the White House, but her spokeswoman said Thursday that she continues to keep an “open line of communication— with President Barack Obama.“The Senator’s foremost goal is to achieve a bipartisan consensus among the six members of the group on a path forward for meaningful health care reform,— Snowe spokeswoman Julia Wanzco said.Wanzco noted that Snowe, a leading moderate, has had multiple discussions with the White House and the president over the past few months about health care reform, and she has frequently told reporters that, in those talks, she often raises her proposal to create a trigger for any public insurance option.“Conversations are taking place on her safety net fallback option as they have throughout the debate this year, as well as [on] other approaches to make certain people have access to affordable options,— Wanzco said. “The Senator has had an open line of communication with the White House over the course of the past few months and looks forward to participating in [Friday’s] teleconference call with the gang of six.—On Wednesday, the White House floated the notion that it might be open to Snowe’s proposal to pass legislation in which the creation of a public insurance option would be a fallback option if health insurers cannot dramatically reduce costs nor increase coverage within a few years. However, it does not appear that the White House’s renewed interest in the idea came from any deal that it has struck with Snowe. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Snowe has previously indicated that she was unlikely to strike a deal on health care reform without the agreement of the two other Republican Finance negotiators — ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.). The three Republicans have acted as an unofficial health care subcommittee, along with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (N.M.). The gang of six has been primarily focused, not on Snowe’s trigger option or on the Democrats’ preferred public insurance option, but on creating a network of nonprofit health insurance cooperatives that could compete with private insurers.Senior Republican aides questioned the White House strategy, saying the quest to woo Snowe could end up antagonizing Grassley and Enzi.“It’s totally unclear why the White House is pushing this story,— one senior Senate GOP aide said. “Have they not seen or heard the Congressmen and Senators on their own side of the aisle who have said they’ll oppose various aspects of this proposal? I’m not sure how alienating Grassley and Enzi with the rest of the Republican conference and the moderates in their own party can be offset by one Senator from Maine. The math is just not on their side.—Another aide added that Snowe’s position on the public insurance option, not to mention her concerns about the costs of any plan, would make it difficult for the White House to win her vote while keeping its base happy.”I think it’s more White House hype than anything,— another senior Senate GOP aide said. “If they do what she would sign off on, then it won’t be Obamacare and the left will implode.” Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill have become increasingly convinced that a bipartisan deal is unlikely to emerge from the Finance talks by Baucus’ deadline of Sept. 15 because Grassley and Enzi have made public statements in which they have downplayed their chances for success. The group of six is set to hold a teleconference Friday morning, the second of the recess.Baucus has promised to push a bill through his committee with or without a deal after Sept. 15, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been working on legislative options that include using procedures to bypass a GOP-led filibuster. Still, Democrats say they will need the Snowe’s vote, and possibly the votes of another Republican or two, to pass anything through the chamber.