Maine’s Snowe hasn’t deserted health care debate

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe said Friday she’s still willing to work with the Obama administration to try to improve the final version of the health care overhaul bill even though she’s frustrated by the way it was rushed through Congress.

The Maine lawmaker said she hasn’t abandoned the negotiations, even though she voted against the Senate bill on Christmas Eve.

“I will continue to offer my ideas,” Snowe said in an interview with The Associated Press. Snowe continued to express frustration, however, over what she considers an overly ambitious timetable to pass the bill and closed-door negotiations that produced the Senate’s vote. She said the speedy deliberations didn’t allow her to speak out against provisions she finds unacceptable, such as creating special Medicare exemptions for some states that could pit states against each other.

“The process was not commensurate with the substance, the magnitude and the scope of this legislation,” Snowe said. “That is the essence of the problem.”

Nevertheless, Snowe, who spoke to President Barack Obama on Thursday, said she wants to improve the bill even if she ultimately votes against it. “Undeniably, we need to have health care reform,” she said.

As one of few GOP Senate moderates, Snowe was seen as a potentially crucial swing vote for a health care overhaul as she and fellow members of the Senate Finance Committee deliberated in 2009.

But before the Senate’s 60-39 party-line vote on Dec. 24, Snowe said, “major, substantive” changes were made, some behind closed doors and all without adequate review. “I think what we’ve seen is legislative sausage making at its worst,” Snowe said.

Among her biggest concerns is the bill’s lack of guarantees of health insurance affordability, which she believes should be a cornerstone of any reform. She’s also concerned about the employer insurance mandates’ potential impact on businesses.

“The cost implications (are) going to overshadow businesses’ ability to create jobs,” Snowe said.

In Washington, negotiations to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions continued in hopes of having a final bill Obama could sign before his State of the Union address in early February.


Associated Press reporter David Sharp contributed to this report.