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CBS: Sen. Snowe on a Public Option, 'Trigger'

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Sunday, September 13, 2009; 12:40 PM

BOB SCHIEFFER (host): Did the president take the public option off the table the other night, or should he be more specific about that, Senator Snowe?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R-MAINE): He should be more specific. In fact, I urged the president to take the public option off the table, because it's universally opposed by all Republicans in the Senate. And therefore, there's no way to pass a plan that includes the public option. So I think he's recognizing that, because it is a roadblock to building the kind of consensus that we need to move forward. Even Chairman Baucus has indicated no proposal could be passed in the Senate that includes it. So it would be best to just move forward.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you just heard what Mr. Axelrod said. He's not willing to take it off the table.

SNOWE: I think it's unfortunate, because it leaves open a legislative possibility that creates uncertainty in this process. And I think it could give real momentum to building a consensus on other issues. I appreciate the fact that the president did demonstrate flexibility on the question in his speech Wednesday night, but it does leave it open, and therefore unpredictable.

SCHIEFFER: You first broached this idea of the so-called trigger option, and that is setting a deadline for these private insurance companies to come up with plans that would cover everyone who needed health care, and then if they didn't get that, then consider some sort of a public option. Do you still feel that way?

SNOWE: Yes, I do. I think it is a possibility. You know, bridging the gap at some point in this process as we move forward. And, in fact, I recommended it to the president months ago, even before health care was at the forefront in Congress, because that started (ph) as a way of assuring coverage, not instituting a public option, but making sure that people have access to choices of affordable coverage if the health insurance industry doesn't perform under a newly restructured market, similar to what we did in the prescription drug benefit, which actually -- it worked. There were so many choices, we never triggered the fallback, in fact.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you are a part of the Senate Finance Committee and part of the group that's trying to put together some sort of a bipartisan group. Will that be in the plan that the Finance Committee puts forward?

SNOWE: It's not on the table. And it won't be. We'll be using the co-op as an option at this point, as the means for injecting competition in the process.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Snowe, you of course are a key vote in all of this, maybe the only Republican that will wind up being for it.

SCHIEFFER: Will you vote for it if you're the only Republican because Senator Grassley, another key Republican, said he's not going to vote for it if he has to be the only Republican. It has to be a broader plan than that. Would you be willing to vote if you're the only Republican that's for this?

SNOWE: Well, I'm focusing on getting the best strategy so we can maximize the support among Republicans and Democrats and of course the American people. We're working mightily within this group of six. The only bipartisan effort I might add in either committee of the House or Senate that's working for more than three months to exhaustively examine all of the issues. We debate the issues, we don't debate political philosophies.

Frankly we have to take the time to do that. That's what the American people expect us to do. I view time as our ally, not as an enemy so we can build that support. That's the key here. I want to be able to craft the very best policy for access, affordability and addressing costs both to the consumer and to the government.

SCHIEFFER: But would you vote for a bill that you believed in even if you were the only one?

SNOWE: I'll do what's right based on what is the right policy. But I think it is important to build support. And that's what I'm looking for. And that's what we're all looking for. Both Senator Grassley and Senator Ensign and the other members, Chairman Baucus and Senator Conrad and Senator Bingaman. I think it's a real tribute to Chairman Baucus, by the way, and Senator Grassley for engaging in this effort that has truly been bipartisan.

We have been working, as I said, deliberately and intensively to maximize the potential for a bipartisan agreement. That would engender broader support in the Senate, in the Congress and in America.

SCHIEFFER: You do not believe at this point a public option, a plan that included a public option could pass the Senate.

SNOWE: Correct, I do not.


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