This morning, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the only Republican to vote for health care reform, revealed that she opposed the individual mandate:
I oppose the individual mandate and I have made changes in the committee with Senator Schumer and I hope we revisit that issue as I said yesterday on the floor. It’s not about punishing and penalizing people, it’s about our responsibility to deliver affordable health care.
Snowe has previously complained about the bill’s lax affordability measures and has introduced numerous amendments to exclude more Americans from the requirement. However, until today, she has indicated that she could support an individual requirement if coverage became more affordable. “I understand the rationality behind the individual mandate,” Snowe said during the committee’s mark-up hearings. “Certainly we shouldn’t pay for those who don’t have health insurance.”
Snowe’s status as the only Republican to vote for health care reform will likely bolster her position at the bargaining table and give her greater influence in shaping the final legislation. Democrats will have to maintain Snowe’s vote as reform moves froward. POLITICO’s Live Pulse quotes a senior Democratic leadership aid as saying, “As the sole Republican to vote for the bill in committee, of course, Sen. Snowe will have a key role to play,” although she may not have a permanent seat on the committee that merges the Finance bill with the HELP bill.
Still, if Snowe — who has called affordability her “first and foremost goal” going forward — has decided that it’s easier to remove the mandate than fight for better affordability measures, some policy makers may be inclined to heed her concern in order to retain her vote and the bill’s ‘bipartisan’ flavor. That, of course, could lead to disastrous policy consequences.