What Does Olympia Snowe Want?

Ezra Klein is puzzled.  On the one hand, she wants a lower price tag.  On the other hand, she wants more generous subsidies.

I think what Olympia Snowe wants is not to vote for an unpopular health care bill that pisses off her constituents.  She's already the Republican who enabled the stimulus.  If she does this, she's going to have to leave the party.  The electoral history of Lieberman, Jeffords, and Specter does not indicate that leaving your party for the other side is the gateway to an exciting and rewarding electoral career.  If she leaves the party and Republicans regain the Senate, they will take their revenge.

Maine has had an unpleasant recent experience with guaranteed issue and community rating.  It's a high cost state even for employer based insurance, which means that more of its citizens are likely to get hit with the excise tax on "Cadillac coverage" that seems to be on the table.

The problem is that what she wants--a cheap bill that doesn't either force a bunch of people to buy coverage they can't afford, or leave a bunch of people uninsured--is not possible.  I assume that she actually knows this.  So her public dithering means one of two things:  she has decided to break with her party, and she wants to signal how difficult this decision is; or she has decided to torpedo the hope of busting a filibuster, and wants to signal to her Democratic constituents that she was forced to it by a bad plan.  Which is it?  Only God and Olympia Snowe know.

I will say that she must know that time is not the friend of the Democrats on the issue.  The longer this drags out, the more opportunity there is for something to go wrong.  Every time the Republicans force them to take some bad-sounding provision out of the bill, public trust erodes.  So the longer she dithers, the less helpful she is to the Democrats.  She may be hoping that if she holds out long enough, the Democrats will break ranks and she won't have to make a painful choice.  This does not seem very likely to me.  But what does it cost her to try?