In the fall of 2009, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe was at the center of the political storm over how to reform the nation’s health care system.

The sole Republican still involved in Senate Finance Committee’s attempts to craft a viable bill, Snowe spent countless hours working with Democrats and met repeatedly with President Barack Obama.

“All of which means that pretty much anything Snowe wants, she is going to get — and any bill that emerges from this excruciating process will bear her stamp,” Time magazine wrote of Maine’s senior senator in September 2009.

Of course, things didn’t exactly play out that way.

Snowe later joined all of her Republican colleagues in voting against a health care bill. And on Thursday, she was among the many GOP lawmakers who called for repeal in the wake of the Supreme Court’s divided decision largely upholding the law.

“It could have been so much different than it is today and perhaps not even faced the challenges it did in the Supreme Court had there been a bipartisan effort” to craft a bill, Snowe said Friday. “And there is blame to share on both sides.”


That is a refrain that Mainers — and the rest of the country, for that matter — are likely to hear many more times in the coming months as Snowe winds down a 33-year career in Congress.

Snowe, who is 65, has cited Congress’ relentless partisanship as the primary reason she decided not to seek re-election this November. That decision, announced in late-February, shocked Maine’s political establishment and could have ramifications for control of the Senate.

In an interview with the Portland Press Herald on Friday, Snowe acknowledged that there are aspects of the health care law that she supports and questioned whether repealing the law is even a political reality. But she continued to question the cost of the law both to taxpayers and businesses.

“There are parts of the law that could have been workable,” Snowe said. But now so many parts are interwoven that she questions whether it is fixable.

“There are so many unknowns associated with this law and it remains to be seen how it will unfold,” she said.

Democratic leaders and Obama had originally hoped to pick up Snowe’s support for the health care reform bill, just as she and her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, had crossed party lines to support Obama’s stimulus package. And Snowe did vote to support the Senate Finance Committee’s bill.


But weeks later, after the bill had been re-worked by Democratic leaders, Snowe voted against the measure on the Senate floor. The vote calmed some anger within GOP ranks in Maine but stoked the ire of bill supporters, who accused the senator of caving to the conservative wing of her party. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada even suggested that it had been a waste of time for Democrats to attempt to negotiate with Snowe.

Following Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, Snowe called the bill a bloated monstrosity that imposes new mandates on businesses and levies hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes without improving Medicare.

Snowe also sent a letter to the Congressional Budget Office requesting a new financial analysis of the law in light of new information since the law’s passage and major upcoming debates over the budget.

“If Congress is to repair the nation’s budget, it is necessary that we have an accurate, realistic perception of the budgetary effects of recently passed legislation, especially a law of the size and scope of PPACA,” Snowe wrote, in reference to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The law’s supporters, of course, strongly disagree with Snowe’s pessimism and predict the changes will make health care more affordable and accessible while addressing some of the perceived abuses of the insurance industry.

Asked Friday whether the partisanship over health care was a major factor in her retirement decision, Snowe said it was just one example of the much larger problem in Washington, DC, in which the parties cannot reach consensus on even the biggest problems facing the nation.

The result, she said, is a kind of paralysis that thwarts progress and leads to manufacturer crises, such as last year’s stalemate over the debt ceiling that led to a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. All of this has left the country in a “precarious position” financially and has undermined public confidence, she said.

“If we had worked as we should have worked, we would be in very different circumstances,” Snowe said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.