Thanks To Snowe, Will Health Care Plans Get More Liberal?

Despite Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R) warnings that her "yes" vote on health reform in the Senate Finance Committee might not make floor passage a lock--"My vote today is my vote today. It doesn't forecast what it will be tomorrow," she said--The New Yorker's Steve Coll suggests Snowe will actually pull the debate leftward, wresting a more expansive bill from reluctant center-right Dems:

The "R" by Snowe's name may give some of the conservative Democrats some political cover if they can hold her to the end, but in truth Snowe has a more expansionist view of what health-care reform should accomplish than some of the Midwestern and Southern Democrats. The hope may actually be that she will pull some of the politically vulnerable Democrats a bit to left and produce a better bill in the final negotiating scrum. ... With Snowe's vote yesterday, I think we know one thing about the final legislation: it will be somewhat better than the Baucus legislation. It might be much better, but I doubt that...

Snowe's "yes" was viewed as a sign that health reform, in general, will survive--a one-GOP-vote cushion that could allow Democrats to carry on negotiations without the whole of health reform disintegrating within their own caucus, at the hands of, say, a Sen. Ben Nelson (NE), or if the centrists won too many concessions and a liberal like Jay Rockefeller (WV) decided to bolt (as unlikely as that is).

It's debatable how much influence members of the Senate's centrist nucleus can exert on one another. Snowe, Nelson, and Sen. Arlen Specter (then-R, now-D) were at the center of the stimulus debate, along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Now, Specter and Collins aren't part of that nucleus when it comes to health care--Collins because she's less likely to support health reform (though she may still be in play for a "yes") and Specter because he's turned out to be more liberal than everyone thought.

The senators at the center are now, as Coll says, Snowe, Nelson, Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Evan Bayh (D-IN). With that new group of critical voters comes a new set of personal dynamics and policy preferences, so we can't necessarily expect a repeat of the stimulus vote, in which something like $100 billion was shaved off in the Senate, with the measure ultimately passing.

Aside from the one-vote cushion Snowe may provide, the notion that she's a relative liberal in that bunch, and that her views on health care will push the final bill leftward, is an interesting one. I wouldn't expect to see a public option come out of this, for instance, or Snowe's preferred "trigger," but one never knows what the negotiations--and the White House's new involvement--could bring.