It never ceases to amaze me how the busiest woman in Washington remains so accessible. Just this week alone, I am aware of 8-10 hours of direct Washington senior staff time devoted to Maine doctors, patients and health care professionals in reviewing the impact of the Baucus bill on Maine families and businesses. Impressive.
Unfortunately, it would appear that there are a number of folks in Washington who are unwilling to make the same time commitment, as they rework one sixth of our economy.
Senator Snowe laid out her understanding of the need for "full consideration" during the health care debate in a statement she released on her website on September 22:
Given the gravity of this landmark endeavor... there should be no question this undertaking commands a painstaking process and the requisite time for full consideration of the spectrum of alternatives and improvements...and to ensure the numbers "add up" within the final product - as we are the only committee of jurisdiction with respect to financing a package. The implications of this legislation are simply too broad and monumental to do otherwise.
Senator Snowe's statement is pretty straight forward. She believes that members of the Senate Finance Committee should be able to read the bill and know how much it costs -- a sentiment she shares with her constituents back home.
On the following day, September 23, Senate democrats voted down an amendment proposed by Republican Senators Bunning and Cornyn, which would have required that the actual legislative language and a final Congressional Budget Office price tag be posted for 72 hours on the Committee website for public review. This would occur before the Senate Finance Committee could vote on final passage.
One way to easily get a sense of how irritated Senator Snowe is on a particular issue, is to time the release of one of her "statements" to the actual event to which it is referring. Think of it like a thunderstorm - where you time how far apart the lightning and thunder are to judge just how close the storm is. I would say the storm is directly over head at this point as Snowe's statement flashed on her website shortly after the vote. She did not mince words saying,
"The fact is words matter and so do the numbers. This amendment represents a common sense, practical, pragmatic, good government approach to understanding the totality and the collective impact of what we do. We want to be sure that we are absolutely confident in the integrity of the product that we are going to be voting on in the final analysis." Senator Snowe Press Release
Let me translate that statement for the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee. You are skating on Potomac River ice in the middle of a Snowe storm. It's not going to end well. When she uses words like "common sense" "practical" and "pragmatic" in the same sentence - you might want to consult with your Senate colleagues on the Right. They learned to speak Moderate in the previous Administration. The grimace on their faces -followed by a Cheshire cat smile- should be translation enough.
The way I see it -- Senator Snowe and her staff have work tirelessly to save the health care bill from complete implosion by offering a series of amendments designed to breathe new life into the reform effort --and perhaps provide the Gang of Six a little more time to work out some type of bipartisan bill. She continues to be accessible to folks back here in Maine, and her staff is speaking daily to doctors, state legislators, other health care professional as well as patients -- in an attempt to find solutions that will work for Maine people.
I can assure you right now - that reading the bill and knowing how much it costs are the first two items on Senator Snowe's health care reform agenda and the same goes for her constituents back here in Maine. The failure of Democrats on the Finance Committee to recognize that fact may very well signal the end of any hope for bipartisanship in health care reform.
Tarren Bragdon is president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Government Accountability, a research and advocacy organization committed to making Florida the most economically vibrant state in America. He is nationally recognized expert on health reform issues with a specialty in Medicaid reform.