Sen. Olympia Snowe's "yes" vote today on the Senate Finance Committee's health reform mark is butter. A "no vote" would have been a kind of margarine. Snowe wants maximum leverage over the final bill. This committee vote is at least three steps removed from that end game. Voting "yes," at this moment, is a marker. Translated, it means, quite simply, that Snowe will vote "yes" on cloture after the House-Senate conference so long as the final bill roughly approximates the Baucus mark. The vote is a win for the White House, which has courted Sen. Snowe quite aggressively since the beginning of the year. It is a win, of sorts, for Baucus, because it means that his bill -- still to be reconciled with another Senate bill -- gains leverage.
First, the Senate has to reconcile this Baucus bill will another one. Then, the Senate has to vote on cloture for the pre-conference final product. Then, the Senate has to vote on final passage. Then, Snowe might well be angling for Republicans to appoint her a conferee -- or, at the very least, she'll be an unofficial conferee because she's got Rahm Emanuel's phone number. Then comes a cloture vote on the post-conference final product. Then comes the final bill. At most, Democrats and the White House need Snowe's help on the cloture votes. They'd love her vote on final passage, because they think it would give some other Republicans cover, but they're really focused on cloture.