Snowe to the rescue of healthcare reform?

The White House may be pushing the chances of a public option down the road

Published September 3, 2009 6:30PM (EDT)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past two months, you're aware that President Obama's attempt to remake America's healthcare system isn't proceeding very smoothly. Voters are confused about what healthcare reform will entail and Obama's approval ratings have been dropping swiftly. Most Senate Republicans have no interest in compromising on any facet of reform and there's a widening split among Democrats over whether healthcare reform must include an option for a public, government-run insurance option.

The president intends to clarify his position on healthcare with a speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9, but by then, the public option may have finally completed its long, slow death. According to various media reports Wednesday, White House officials are meeting privately with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, about creating a healthcare compromise that would include a so-called trigger option for government-backed insurance.

A bill including such a trigger would be far less ambitious than one with a mandate to create a public option now. Basically, the trigger would mean that a public healthcare option would only be implemented sometime in the future, and only if private insurers failed to reform on their own by lowering costs, improving patient access and not denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions. The White House is hoping that liberal congressional Democrats who have already voted for a bill with a public option would be willing to support a measure with the trigger mechanism instead.

According to the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, the trigger idea has good support within the Obama administration. Ambinder writes, "White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has been pushing the idea of a 'trigger' internally, and he and Snowe regularly trade legislative and political intelligence."

At this juncture, Snowe seems to be the only Republican senator willing to engage in substantive negotiations with Democrats and the White House on healthcare. Monday, Obama advisor David Axelrod lashed out at two of the leading Republicans who had been working on healthcare reform in the Senate, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, saying the two were not working in good faith to enact reform. "They’re satisfied with the status quo. We are not,” Axelrod said.

One reason that Snowe makes a good negotiating partner is that she doesn't face a great deal of risk for working with Obama. She is incredibly popular in Maine, is reportedly pro-reform and isn't up for reelection until 2012.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

MORE FROM Vincent Rossmeier

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Healthcare Reform Olympia J. Snowe R-maine Rahm Emanuel U.s. Senate