- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

UPDATED:

Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican, said she will vote in favor of health care reform when the Senate Finance Committee votes Tuesday afternoon, making her the first member of her party to support President Obama’s effort to overhaul the $2.5 trillion industry.

“When history calls, history calls,” Ms. Snowe said in a statement. “I happen to think the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity … to solve the monumental issues of our time. There are many, many miles to go in this legislative journey.”

Ms. Snowe said she will vote with reservations “because I share my Republican colleagues’ reservations about what will transpire on the Senate floor and about what will emerge from House-Senate conference and how the finance committee bill will be merged” with the bill from the chamber’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

Ms. Snowe’s decision concludes much of the day’s drama surrounding the legislation, which is expected to pass along party lines in the committee. But she also cautioned that her vote in support of the committee’s version of the bill did not guarantee that she would support the final bill on the Senate floor, assuming it is amended in the legislative process going forward.

The Senate Finance version of the bill now must be merged with a more expansive bill already approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee before facing a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who will take the lead on combining the two measures, will need at least 60 votes to overcome a near-certain Republican filibuster.

Any final Senate bill must also be reconciled with House legislation before going on to President Obama’s desk.

Ms. Snowe, 62, gave no indication Tuesday morning on whether she would vote in favor of the reform legislation.

Though Ms. Snowe was among the first committee members to speak, she 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 later in the morning, she declined to talk to reporters about how she would vote.

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

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