Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a key member of the Senate Finance Committee, emerged from a meeting with President Obama Thursday afternoon sticking to her guns that health care reform legislation should not be voted upon before Senators break for recess on August 7, despite a strong push from the president that the bill be completed by then.
“We shouldn’t be restrained by an artificially compressed timeline,” said the Maine moderate, pointing out that with estimated costs of $2.4 trillion, health care comprises 17% of the US gross domestic product, so reforming health care is a “Herculean challenge.”
“It’s important to us to take time to work through these issues,” Snowe said.
President Obama needs Snowe’s support in order to be able to claim that the legislation is bipartisan and also, possibly, in order to even proceed to a vote on the floor of the senate given the illnesses of Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Robert Byrd, D-WV.
“We’d like to get a bipartisan package,” Snowe said, to make the legislation more likely to pass but also to “engender confidence with the American people.”
Snowe said she showed the president a draft outline of the bill the Senate Finance Committee members and staffers have been working on for weeks, including weekends, to assure the president that “we’re working diligently.”
But she suggested a slower timeline than the “overly ambitious” one the president has urged, Snowe said.
In her view, the bill could be voted on in the Senate Finance Committee before August 7, she said. During the August recess, the Senate Finance Committee bill could be “fused” with the one from the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, giving senators and the American people time to review them both. In September, the legislative process can continue when the Senate reconvenes, she said.
President Obama, Snowe reported after their roughly 45-minute-long meeting, disagrees.
“Understandably the president would like to complete this process…before the August recess,” she said. “He’s concerned about returning in Fall and getting this done.” The president told her, she said, that “’this is our window of opportunity.’ I don’t disagree,” she said, but she wants to “make sure we have the best initiative and the best product going forward.”
After all, she said, “this is a costly endeavor” never before undertaken by Congress.
“It’s important to get it right,” she said, noting that the Finance Committee has yet to hear from the Congressional Budget Office regarding cost estimates.