KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Dems Court Snowe For Key 60th Vote

Democrats are courting Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Me., the Republican most likely to provide the key 60th vote that Democrats need to pass a health care overhaul package without the use of budget reconciliation.

"As the only Republican on the Finance Committee still in talks with Democrats on a final bill, Snowe now finds herself with extraordinary leverage as crunch time hits for health reform," Time reports. "[P]retty much anything Snowe wants, she is going to get - and any bill that emerges from this excruciating process will bear her stamp." What she wants most is affordability. Snowe comes from a "solidly working class" family and represents "a small, relatively poor state where the principal effect of well-intentioned, piecemeal efforts at health reform has been to ignite an explosion in medical costs. Maine, whose insurance market is dominated by one large firm, pays some of the highest premiums in the country, and they are rising nearly four times as fast as wages are. Much of that is falling on the small businesses that are the heart of the state's economy."

"Early on, say those who are familiar with talks, Snowe was the lone voice in Baucus' bipartisan 'Gang of Six' negotiating group complaining that the federal subsidies his bill would provide to help individuals buy insurance were far too skimpy. When Baucus made his bill public, her complaint was echoed by many Democrats. As a result, Baucus agreed to make the bill's tax credits for low- and middle-income Americans more generous." But "[e]ven if the Baucus bill bears Snowe's stamp, that does not mean it will get her vote," and she has not said that she will support an individual mandate (Tumulty, 9/24).

Meanwhile, "the White House is still aggressively seeking GOP backing and hoping to avoid a completely partisan Senate floor vote under reconciliation," including Snowe, Roll Call reports. Snowe "met with Obama at the White House within the last two weeks, sources said, and has publicly suggested that she talks to the president frequently." The White House is also reaching out to the other Republican Senator from Maine, Sen. Susan Collins. After Obama's health care speech to Congress, Collins "had coffee at the White House for about 45 minutes with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Last week she shared dinner at Pier 7 Restaurant in Washington with Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, who is playing a significant role in the White House lobbying effort" (Koffler, 9/23). 

USA Today reports that Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., "is particularly worried about (reconciliation), which would allow Democrats to pass a health care bill with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes typically needed to stop a filibuster and move ahead with a final vote on legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Tuesday that (using) reconciliation for health care is a possibility," though he calls it a "last resort." But "Gregg counters that if Democrats go the reconciliation route, the result will be a health care bill that looks like 'Swiss cheese.' Republicans could raise points of order, questioning whether certain provisions of the bill meet the criteria for use of reconciliation (namely, whether those provisions affect the budget). The Senate parliamentarian would rule on those questions, potentially jettisoning portions of the bill" (Fritze, 9/23).

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