Snowe Job

Robert Waldmann

I am not questioning Senator Olympia Snowe’s integrity. The Snowe job in question was my attempt to convince myself that Senator Snowe agrees with me. When reflecting on the question I discover that she strongly disagrees with Senator Snowe. I can see that the problem of health care reform has caused her to struggle intellecutally, but I don’t know if she is wrestling desperately or Grassling* brilliantly.

thoughts after the jump.

OK first the Snowe job. Snowe has two objections to the Baucus proposal (via Steve Benen) . One is that financing subsidies by taxing expensive insurance policies will hurt Maine, since insurance premia are high in Maine (note it takes a sort of inverted political genius to insist on a financing mechanism which is bad for Maine). The second is that the subsidies are too stingy. On the second point Snowe agrees with most Democrats who are not Baucus. The 3 other plans have more generous subsidies.

So, I thought, maybe she supports a bill with more generous subsidies and a different financing mechanism. The alternative which has been discussed is a tax on rich people. Maybe she supports the House Energy and Commerce Committee bill.

But she worries about the total gross spending increases (generally called “costs” in the press). Hmm well they could be cut if there were a public option so maybe …

Then I realised that I was dreaming. She has also asked for the public option to be taken off the table.

The costs are the costs of subsidies and medicaid expansion. Snowe has said the subsidies and medicaid expansion are too stingy and that the costs are too high. Her implied proposal is not just impractical, it violates arithmetic. She has definitely and specifically called the exact same outlays too large and too small.

Given the definition of “costs” they can’t be reduced by cutting spending except for spending on subsidies and medicaid expansion. “Costs” are the sum of spending increases not spending increases minus spending cuts. I determine the definition of this strange new technical term from the fact that the reduction of medicare advantage giveaways to insurance companies doesn’t reduce “costs.”

On financing, the fact that she opposes the tax on expensive insurance doesn’t mean that she supports a tax on the rich, any other tax increase or more deficit spending.

It almost looks as if she is deliberately imposing conditions each of which sounds good to the uninformed, but which can’t all be satisfied because they are logically inconsistent. I still Snowe myself into thinking she is honestly struggling, but honestly, it’s beginning to be a struggle.

*To Grassle
Verb. To sabotage negotiations by demanding secrecy, privately promising that one is close to saying yes, publicly promise nothing and constantly make new objections each of which seems to require concessions which aren’t extreme enough to be deal breakers.

This is a very common diplomatic technique. I don’t want to violate al Goodwin’s law, but one extreme case was Saddam Hussein in 1991. One international statesman after another communicated the demand that he take his army out of Kuwait. Each emerged smiling assuring the world that they were close to a diplomatic solution, but not quite there yet.

Generally one does not hope to block and delay *and* win concessions even after it becomes clear that one will never say yes. The current Baucus plan makes me wonder how the world would have reacted if Bush Sr had driven the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and then forced the Kuwaiti’s to stop pumping so much oil from oil fields which straddled the Iraq Kuwait border.

The point of Grassling is to take a lot of time. People who waste time debaiting the details of a proposal that they want to block (that is filibuster intelligentl) can be said to act grassly the adverb that corresponds to the verb to Grassle. They congressman who shouted “you lie” acted crassly but not grassly.