After a 45-minute meeting with President Obama, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the president's August timeline for health care legislation is a "Herculean goal" but was optimistic that a bipartisan bill could be achieved and that the two Senate bills could be fused together.
"We shouldn't be restrained by an artificially compressed timeline," Snowe told reporters, adding that the key is to have legislation that would "engender confidence with the American people."
"It's important to get it right," she told reporters.
Snowe will be an extremely important vote if either Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., or Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., are too sick to make it to a health care reform vote. Both remain absent from committee proceedings, and Democrats will need a GOP member to get 60 votes if both Kennedy and Byrd are missing for a final vote.
President Obama, meantime, was at a rally in Holmdel, N.J., this afternoon where he continued his health care reform push.
"The health care debate is about to heat up," the president told the crowd attending a rally for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine.
The president said containing health care costs is essential.
"The price of doing nothing about health care is a price that every taxpayer and every business and every family will have to pay," he said.
Meanwhile, Snowe met Thursday afternoon with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., in closed-door sessions following her meeting at the White House.
"Every senator complains that we're spending too much and not getting enough for it," Grassley told reporters. "Well, you're not going pass a bill to spend more and get less for it."
Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, said if the president really wanted to change health care, he would flaunt labor unions and get behind a proposal to tax some level of employee benefits.
"We feel that the president, does he really want to bend the cost curve?" Grassley asked. "He ought to be out in front of this issue. He ought to endorse it. ... It depends on what you want to do. Do you want to spend more on health care or do you want to bring the cost curve down?"
The senator said he asked the president to endorse taxing health care benefits, but the president told him "he couldn't do it."
As Snowe was meeting with Obama at the White House, health care discussions continued on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., slammed assertions that the plans proposed by the president and congressional Democrats would not save taxpayers and the federal government money in the long haul.
Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf said today that the legislation under discussion would raise costs instead of lowering them.
Reid had a tart response to Elmendorf's remarks.
"What he should do is maybe run for Congress," Reid said when asked to respond to Elmendorf's analysis.
The CBO is a nonpartisan office and Elmendorf was appointed by the Democratic leadership in the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also disagreed with Elmendorf's statement.
"They don't score in any positive way prevention, wellness, [or] negotiation for lower [cost] pharmaceutical drugs," she said.
At a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee, Elmendorf said CBO does not see health care net cost savings in either of the partisan Democratic bills currently in Congress.