Will The Senate Centrists Please Tell Us What They Think?

by Jonathan Chait | September 14, 2009

My last TRB column was about the prevailing mode of centrist thought in American politics, which is mostly a way of lashing your own opinions to those of others rather than make any independent judgment. I wish I had written it for the next issue, because this last weekend offered up some especially comical examples.

Olympia Snowe declared that President Obama should remove the public option from health care reform because “It’s universally opposed by Republicans,” and “therefore, there's no way to pass a plan that includes the public option.” But Snowe is a Republican! She could join with the 59 Democrats to vote for a bill that included the public option, and then it would pass. Alternatively, Massachusetts Democrats could seat an interim Senator, giving them 60 votes, and break a filibuster without Snowe. Those are two ways right there. I’m pretty sure there are others.

The even more odd assumption of Snowe’s comments was her belief that removing the public option would cause Republicans to support health care reform. We can test that proposition. Right now, the Senate Finance Committee – a committee on which Snowe sits -- has a health care bill that lacks a public option. So far no Republicans have supported it, and almost nobody believes that any Republicans other than Snowe might:

Even so, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said his party probably won’t accept the Senate Finance Committee plan. “I just do not believe they’re going to have Republican support on this kind of bill,” the Utah Republican, a member of the finance committee and the Senate’s health committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Snowe has long advocated a trigger mechanism for the public plan, which would cause the plan to come into existence only if certain conditions were met. The other centrist from Maine, Susan Collins, opposes this because she thinks the trigger would be a formality:

The people who are going to be making the determination about whether the market’s competitive enough want the public option,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “So I think the trigger is just a delay.”

But look. Collins is a member of the Senate. She can negotiate what the trigger would look like herself. She could go to the Democrats and say she favors a trigger only under conditions that aren’t automatic.

I find it odd that reporters interviewing Senators allow them to avoid taking positions by acting like pundits rather than participants. I wonder if this tactic could be applied by regular people in other facets of life:

I’m going to try this.  

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/will-the-senate-centrists-please-tell-us-what-they-think