HERMON, Maine — Sen. Olympia Snowe, in Maine for the weekend, said she hasn’t yet seen the Senate’s latest health care bill, but the powerful Republican also stressed that she has no plans to rush her decision.
“It’s regrettable that the House passed a bill so quickly,” the senator said Friday before meeting with constituents at Dysart’s Truck Stop & Restaurant in Hermon. “It deserves more time.”
Snowe also maintained that her preference is not a government-run health care system, but rather a well-regulated, competitive health care option offered through private insurance companies. Asked how she could reject a public option when polls show two-thirds of Mainers support it, Snowe said there are different definitions of public options.
She, for instance, has been pushing for a safety net, or trigger option, which would allow government to step in only if the private sector fails in offering affordable options. Earlier this month, Snowe she said she would not support Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s proposed bill if it included a government-run option. She said Friday that she talks regularly to Reid — the Nevada Democrat crafting the Senate bill — but does not yet know what the final bill will include.
“It remains to be seen when we return next week what’s in it,” she said. “But it’s critically important that we have the opportunity to review it at least a few days before voting on it.”
Snowe was the only Republican to vote on the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill in October, but she said at the time that her vote then did not mean she would side with Democrats on a final bill.
“It’s important to craft legislation that addresses the key issues of cost, affordability and banning certain practices of the past,” she said. “That will take as long as it takes.”
Snowe also addressed criticism over her stance on the estate tax, something a group of Bangor area farmers and small-business owners protested at her local office Friday morning.
The estate tax, which applies to assets that are transferred upon someone’s death, began in 2001 under President George W. Bush and is set to expire in 2010.
Estate tax is imposed on the transfer of the taxable estate of a deceased person, whether by a will or according to individual state law of intestacy. States may also have separate taxes, sometimes called an inheritance tax. If an asset is left to a spouse or a charitable organization, the tax usually does not apply.
The Bush provisions increased tax exclusions on estates from $675,000 in 2001 to $1,000,000 in 2002, $1,500,000 in 2004, $2,000,000 in 2006, and $3,500,000 in 2009, with repeal of the estate tax scheduled for 2010.
“It’s a common misconception that the estate tax affects small-business owners and farmers, but that’s just not true,” said Maine People’s Alliance Tax Issues organizer Anne Sheldon. “We’re talking about only 140 farmers or small-business people in the entire country that would be subject to this tax each year. They’re the wealthiest of the wealthy and we hope Sens. Snowe and Collins will oppose giving them another tax break at the expense of Maine communities.”
Snowe said she would be open to adjusting the estate tax before its expiration but stressed that it’s important that family business can preserve the next generation without penalty.
Members of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which led Friday’s demonstration, said elimination of the estate tax would lead to an $800 billion increase in the federal deficit over the next 10 years.