(Non)sense Of Snowe

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JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 16, 2010

(Non)sense Of Snowe

One thing I've been wondering about the last few months is what exactly happened behind the scenes with Olympia Snowe and the health care negotiations. Today, her former health care adviser, William F. Pewen, has a New York Times op-ed. After reading it, I'm still wondering.

Pewen blames Republicans for cynically opposing any reform for partisan reasons:

Republicans rightly note that their role was minimized in four of the five Congressional committees charged with drafting the legislation. Yet many Republicans had decided even before Inauguration Day to block reform, including policies that their party had previously supported. In 2003, for example, Republicans enacted legislation that financed end-of-life counseling — yet in town halls last August they claimed a similar measure would create “death panels.”

Republican cries for fiscal responsibility also ring hollow when you consider the party’s record of establishing higher-cost private Medicare plans and enacting a drug benefit that wasn’t paid for. The fact is that under the Republicans’ watch, critical problems of escalating health costs and access to affordable coverage were largely ignored.

Yet he also blames Democrats:

The Senate Finance Committee sought to address that concern by drafting legislation to reform health insurance, provide subsidies to those who cannot afford coverage and achieve better value for America’s health care dollar. ... Each party could counter the excesses of the other — a balance that disappeared when Democrats later merged legislation from the two Senate committees into a single bill.

In that merging, the focus shifted to a one-sided political calculus, and away from critical questions like just how much it would cost Americans to carry the minimum amount of insurance coverage required under the emerging bill. Rather than address such concerns, the Democratic leadership, in the interest of political expediency, expanded the scope of the legislation, adding more regulation, spending and taxes. Soon health care reform, which had been achievable, became endangered.

This really makes very little sense. Snowe voted for the Senate Finance bill, then shortly thereafter began demanding indefinite delays in the process. Shortly thereafter, she voted to condemn the individual mandate -- something contained in the Finance bill she had voted for -- as unconstitutional. Then she voted against a bill that closely resembled the Finance bill, not specifying what changes she would need to win her support.

What I think happened is that Snowe got very nervous about being the only Republican to support the bill. She hoped other Republicans would come along, but as the party leadership and activist base subjected members like Robert Bennett and Charles Grassley to intense pressure, they withdrew from negotiations, leaving Snowe isolated.

Pewen concludes:

What’s more, the core of the Senate’s legislation closely resembles the very bill the Republicans offered in 1993 as an alternative to the Clinton plan. This makes clear that bipartisan reform was achievable, and indicts Congress for its failure to realize that goal with broad public support.

But wait, this makes no sense. If the plan resembled the 1993 Republican plan, and it did, then why are both parties responsible for the failure of bipartisanship? Doesn't this mean that Democrats settled on essentially a Republican plan, and at least some Republicans should have supported it? Reading this, I'm left wondering if he's dishonest, dense, or too timid to say what he actually thinks. In other words, it's exactly like listening to Olympia Snowe.

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posted in: jonathan chait, new york times, america, inauguration day, charles grassley, robert bennett, william f. pewen, medicare, senate

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