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HEALTH POLITICS: Senate Dems Not Giving Up On A Bipartisan Bill

Maine's Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe both voted with fellow Republicans Saturday against the Democratic bid to bring health reform legislation to the Senate floor. Yet both are moderates who have broken with their party in the past, and both have signaled they would consider voting for the health bill -- if Democrats change it enough, reports The New York Times. Collins told the Times,

I have ruled out voting for this bill, but I still very much want to vote for a bill and that is why I am continuing to have discussions. I still cling to the belief that it is possible for a group of us to come together and rewrite the bill in a way that would cause it to have greater support.

Everyone was pretty excited when Senator Snowe decided to vote for Senate Finance chairman Max Baucus's version of a health care reform bill. Yet at the time, Senator Snowe warned her colleagues loudly and clearly that her vote to get that bill out of committee didn't assure her vote on final passage.

Since then, several moderate Senators expressed similar sentiments -- Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) voted to move ahead with debate but have made it quite clear they aren't entirely happy with the bill. Like Lieberman, Snowe is concerned about including the much debated public option. Collins worries the Senate bill does not go far enough in lowering health care costs and providing coverage.

In their remarks on the Senate floor this past weekend, neither Snowe nor Collins endorsed the bill, but they did not engage in the same line of anti-health reform attacks as other Republicans. According to the Times,

Both senators have talked privately with Democrats and independents about devising joint amendments on areas like cost control, and both said they would keep seeking compromises. Ms. Snowe said that would "be a true test of whether there is a will to improve this legislation in a non-ideological, bipartisan manner.

In the race to get to 60 votes on the Senate floor, every vote counts. With just a few moderate Democrats (and Independents) on the fence about health reform legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might really need the support of moderate Republicans like Snowe and Collins to get final bill passed. Reid told the Times he isn't giving up on a bipartisan bill,

We reach out to our Republican colleagues, and we would like to work with them. But everyone should understand we're going to do a bill. We hope that we don't have to do it with Democrats, but if we have to, we will.