U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who spent the better part of last year working on health care reform, said Friday that it's unlikely a bipartisan solution will be found, despite Thursday's White House-hosted summit with top Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
“It's interesting to see how they take the basis of what was discussed at the summit and move forward,” Snowe said. “I just don't know if it's achievable and desirable, based on what was said. I am just not clear where it goes from here.”
Snowe was not a participant in the summit, having declined a last-minute invitation from the White House.
Though she didn't believe the summit would result in new legislation, she said it was constructive in some ways.
“It gave a window on views and for the first time allowed the public to see an unfettered and unfiltered discussion among both parties; I think it was very important for the public to see,” Snowe said.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has said there is common ground to be found on the issue, including more emphasis on preventive care, rewarding quality rather than quantity, increasing transparency and allowing small businesses to work together to increase their marketing power.
But she has been disappointed with the process used by Democratic leadership.
“I oppose the use of budget reconciliation procedures to advance legislation of such significant change in national policy,” Collins said in a statement. “Under reconciliation rules, Senate floor debate would be limited to just 20 hours and amendments would not be allowed. Limiting debate on a bill that affects every single American and one-sixth of our nation’s economy would invariably result in legislation that is not nearly as well-thought-out as it should be.”
Budget reconciliation, a Senate procedural tool, would allow Congress to move forward on the legislation that passed the Senate late last year. The House would pass the same bill and then the Senate would need only 51 votes to pass a “fix” package, eliminating some of the pieces House members oppose, such as the special deal carved out for Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, known as the "cornhusker kickback."
Snowe said she spoke to a “key Democrat” Thursday night who said it was likely reconciliation would be used.
“It would be regrettable if it goes in that direction,” Snowe said. “The question (for reforms) is what is doable under the circumstances, philosophically and economically. Maine has been bludgeoned by premium costs representing a 349 percent increase over the last decade. Something has to be done, that's why I was committed to this. That's why I can't look in the rearview mirror; I have to keep trying to move forward.”
It's been nearly a year since Snowe and a group of three Democrats and two Republicans began meeting in hopes of crafting a health care reform measure that would win widespread approval from members of both parties.
“Certainly, there was interest to see if it was possible to achieve a draft bill on a bipartisan basis, to see if it was achievable and doable,” she said of the “Gang of Six” talks. “We actually talked about provisions and specific approaches and would analyze it with the pros and cons and discuss that thoroughly and see if we could agree on it and put it aside if we needed more information.”
But the group was pressured by Democratic leadership to abandon their laborious talks, and near the end, the rhetoric from Snowe's Republican colleagues grew more and more partisan.
Snowe was the only Senate Republican to vote in support of health care reform legislation in committee. She voted against all of the measures that have been brought to the Senate floor, however, and isn't optimistic about the path forward, despite believing change is necessary.
“Since the day the Finance Committee voted on Oct. 13, the wheels came off and everything went behind closed doors," she said. "There was no legitimate process for amendments to be offered. The amendment process is essential in order to have a consensus-based process. It results in something more moderate than what the president or his party would want and more sweeping than the Republicans would want.”