As the Senate Finance Committee prepared to vote on its health-care overhaul bill today, the only major question was how Olympia Snowe, the one Republican who's expressed any interest in supporting the Democrats' health-care reforms, would vote. Now we know: She's on board—at least for now.
What does this mean for reformers? I basically agree with Phil Klein, who writes:
In her statement, Snowe emphasized that this was merely one step in a long process, and that her vote today should not be used to forecast her final vote….While expressing several reservations about the bill, she said, "When history calls, history calls."
This is a good headline for Democrats today, but it doesn't solve the underlying friction between moderate and liberal members of Congress. The ability to attract one Republican may stregthen Baucus's hand during negotiations with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chris Dodd (representing the HELP Committee) and embolden Blue Dogs in the to oppose the inclusion of a government-run plan in the House. Everything will hinge on whether House liberals cave in on their demand for a government plan, or dig in.
Seems to me that what Snowe's really doing here isn't so much voting in favor of the bill, but voting to give the bill a hearing on the Senate floor. As she indicated in her statement, her yes vote now doesn't necessarily mean she'll vote yes later. This preserves her leverage by keeping outsiders wondering whether she'll provide the bill any small amount of bipartisan backing. For now, at least, she wants debate to continue.