What Happened to Snowe?

In the comments to a late January post I had a debate with a reader about why Olympia Snowe withdrew her support for health reform. My position was that she caved to party pressure. In a post today Jonathan Chait essentially backs up my position, adding considerable nuance.

Snowe voted for the Senate Finance bill, then shortly thereafter began demanding infinite delays in the process. Shortly thereafter, she voted to condemn the individual mandate — something contained in the Finance bill she had voted for — as unconstitutional. Then she voted against a bill that closely resembled the Finance bill, not specifying what changes she would need to win her support.

What I think happened is that Snowe got very nervous about being the only Republican to support the bill. She hoped other Republicans would come along, but as the party leadership and activist base subjected members like Robert Bennett and Charles Grassley to intense pressure, they withdrew from negotiations, leaving Snowe isolated.

OK, so Chait says she felt isolated as her Republican colleagues were pressured. I speculated that she was pressured directly. There’s actually not a lot of difference between these two stories, and I’m happy to yield to Chait’s hypothesis. Either way she walked away even though she is on record for supporting a package of reforms that isn’t terribly different from what ultimately passed the Senate. And if the bill that passed the Senate is different from the one she voted out of the Senate Finance Committee in a way that she objects to, she never specified what that critical difference is.

Given this, how can there be any uncertainty about the notion that the Democrats could never have attracted Republican votes after the bill left the Senate Finance Committee? Well, if you are still harboring any uncertainty, read the entirety of Chait’s post.

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