There may be just one Republican member of the entire Congress who publicly states her support for health care legislation. And that member may stress that her vote could change as the legislation is modified. But the White House is already claiming a small victory in achieving bipartisan consensus for reform
"Sure," said spokesman Robert Gibbs, when asked if Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R-ME) decision to vote for the Senate Finance Committee bill meant the legislation had bipartisan support.
"We have today a bipartisan bill," he offered later. "So we seem to have checked both boxes [bipartisanship and a bill that enhances choice and competition.]"
The White House, indeed, was rather gleeful and relieved to see that Snowe had bucked the desires of every other elected Republican in Washington. The president, said Gibbs, had not talked to the Maine Republican in the days leading up to today's finance committee vote. But he was engaged in the overall process and pleased with the outcome -- a 14-9 vote to pass legislation out of committee.
"That all five committees that have jurisdiction of the important issue of health care will have reported a bill out which will be the first time that's ever happened in our history,' said Gibbs. "That is an exceedingly important step."
Going forward, Gibbs said that he predicted the president would sign health care reform into law "this year," which means that legislation will have had to make it through both chambers of Congress before Christmas recess. Obama, he said, would remain an active participant in the process, though, at this juncture, he still would not draw lines in the sand in terms of what bill (and specific reform proposals) he preferred. In a line that seemed to indicate the president would sign the Senate Finance Committee's version of legislation into law -- despite the fact that it does not include a public plan for coverage -- Gibbs declared:
"I think by many accounts you've got legislation that does many of the things the president hoped it would do and quite frankly, as I said earlier, what many in America want to see in health care reform. We understand this is the first step in that process and we hope as we go forward we will have members in the House and Senators that will continue to work constructively, as Sen. Snowe did, in gaining a solution toward."