Maine’s two U.S. senators say the election in Massachusetts on Tuesday of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate is an indication of widespread dissatisfaction among Americans with the handling of comprehensive health care reform legislation.
In a statement on Wednesday, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe said the election in Massachusetts was “unsurprising, given the American public’s increasing and legitimate frustration with the political events unfolding in Washington.”
Snowe said the majority of Americans oppose the health care legislation pending in Congress. She faulted “sweetheart deals, a lack of transparency, and an unnecessary rush to adhere to arbitrary deadlines” for undermining the confidence of the public.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins said Brown’s victory “is an indication that voters in Massachusetts, indeed a majority of Americans, do not support unfettered, one-party rule in Washington.”
Brown’s election also reflects “the fact that so many people are appalled at the process by which the health care bill was negotiated behind closed doors, rammed through the Senate with limited debate and amendments, and riddled with special deals to garner votes,” Collins said in a statement issued Tuesday evening.
Tuesday’s GOP victory in Massachusetts dramatically recasts the future of the national health care debate that has occupied both houses of Congress for much of the past year. With Brown’s election, Senate Democrats have lost their essential 60-vote lock on health reform legislation as well as the virtual assurance of passing a final version through both chambers.
Snowe, whose early participation in negotiating the bill was key to its passage through the Senate Finance Committee, has long been viewed as the only Senate Republican who might vote in support of the final reform legislation.
She voted with Democrats in support of the Finance Committee bill, but ongoing communications with congressional Democrats and the White House failed to garner her support for the final Senate version, which she said was rushed through on an artificial timeline without adequate opportunities for analysis and revision.
At public forums in Maine last week, Snowe said Wednesday, she heard firsthand from small-business owners that they are afraid of “hidden costs and fees” in the legislation and the impact on their ability to grow their businesses.
She emphasized the importance of developing bipartisan support for health care reform and said she would continue to play a constructive role in the debate.
Collins, often described along with Snowe as a political moderate, has been quicker to distance herself from the developing health care reform legislation. She indicated early on that she would not support the Senate bill and, along with her fellow Republicans, voted against it in December.
Collins said Congress and the White House should “start from scratch” and draft a new health care bill that would reduce health care costs and include provisions such as insurance market reforms, the ability to purchase insurance across state lines, and tax breaks for small businesses.
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he remains conflicted about many provisions in the House and Senate bills, especially their impact on Medicare and Medicaid.
Although he voted in favor of the House bill, Michaud has not said he would support the final bill and seemed resigned to re-working the legislation in light of Brown’s election and the shift in political power it entails.
“We’re just going to have to go back, focus on the issues we all agree on and move those forward,” the 2nd District Democrat said. “I’d much rather take a more comprehensive approach, but right now I just don’t see that it’s going to be doable.”
Michaud said he is committed to increasing Medicare reimbursement rates in Maine, regardless of the larger health care reform effort.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, an early and enthusiastic supporter of the House bill, said in a prepared statement on Wednesday that she has not yet made up her mind about the options now available to passing health care reform.
“My goal continues to be passing reform that improves health care coverage for those who already have it, strengthens Medicare and make[s] coverage affordable for those who don’t currently have it,” Pingree said.