THE TREATMENT OCTOBER 13, 2009
—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’s 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 bipartisan.
I agree that this is the likely conventional wisdom. And it may have the added virtue of being true. But you can make an argument that Dems didn't want Snowe's vote today. Why? Because it gives her way too much leverage over the whole process. I think Snowe always intended to vote for a health care bill this year barring some aggressive leftward turn, which the White House and Senate leadership are pretty determined to prevent. So you basically had her vote on the Senate floor even if she didn't vote for the bill in committee. (Moreover, you could still pass a health care bill even if that's not right and you didn't get her vote on the floor. I can't imagine Snowe voting to sustain a filibuster. And even if she did Democrats probably have 60 votes to break it. On top of which there's always reconciliation.)
On the other hand, now that Snowe has voted for the bill in committee, she can basically dictate the terms of the final bill. (Anyone wondering about the havoc she might wreak need only look at the stimulus.) That's because, if you alienate her during the forthcoming negotiations, her defection from the final bill would be disastrous. Just imagine the atmospherics of Olympia Snowe getting up on the Senate floor and saying she was so serious about passing health care reform she voted for it in committee, but that she can no longer support the bill because it's moved too far to the left. It would be absolutely devastating.*
Long story short: You don't need Snowe to pass health care. But getting her vote in committee will probably lead to a worse bill. And getting her vote and then losing it later is pretty much the only way health care reform dies this year. So I was rooting for a "no vote" from Snowe today.
*Meanwhile, if you don't get Snowe's vote in committee but end up nailing it down in the run-up to the floor vote, that gives you even more momentum heading into the final vote.
Update: Snowe's a "yes." Don't say I didn't warn you...
Update II: I tweaked this item to reflect the "yes" vote (1:35 pm).