- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe gave no indication Tuesday morning on whether she will vote later this afternoon in favor of health care reform to become the first member of her party to support President Obama’s effort to overhaul the $2.5 trillion industry.

Though she was among the first Senate Finance Committee members to speak, Ms. Snowe only asked Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, technical questions about how his office will evaluate the bill once it has been merged with those already passed.

Outside the Capitol Hill meeting room, she declined to talk to reporters about how she will vote.

Ms. Snowe’s blessing would give Mr. Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress the opportunity to call their health care reform plans “bipartisan.”

Four other congressional committees have already passed reform legislation. If the bill passes Tuesday in the Senate committee, it will be merged with another Senate plan, then House legislation before reaching Mr. Obama’s desk.

Though Democrats originally said they wanted a plan that could generate 70 to 80 votes on the Senate floor, Republicans have largely railed against the various plans.

The Maine lawmaker has made affordability one of her top concerns, saying the poor and middle class would need help if the bill requires all Americans to have health insurance. Ms. Snowe co-authored amendments with Democrats to significantly reduce the penalties for failure to obtain insurance.

Ms. Snowe said she was encouraged by last week’s announcement by the CBO that the bill would cost $829 billion over 10 years and reduce the deficit by $81 billion by the end of that period — meeting President Obama’s demand that the reform overall not increase the federal budget.

Ms. Snowe’s position wasn’t overlooked by many in the Finance Committee’s debate. When Democrats ventured to the Republicans’ side of the dais during the markup debate, it was more often than not to slide into an open seat near Ms. Snowe.

When Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s proposal to reduce the penalties in the health reform plan stalled in the committee, he withdrew the amendment, only to return a few hours later with some new support.

“It’s now a Schumer-Snowe amendment,” the New York Democrat told Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.

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