Senator Harry Reid's office is pushing back against reports that the Majority Leader is planning to include Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) among the group of senators tasked with merging varying versions of health care legislation.
"She will not be in the room," said a Reid aide, referencing reports to the contrary that emerged Wednesday evening. "The only people who will be at the negotiating table are Harry Reid, [Senate Finance Committee Chair] Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Sen. Chris Dodd and the White House."
The aide, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity to discuss procedural matters, said that Reid would listen to Snowe's suggestions throughout the process of melding the Finance Committee and HELP Committee's versions of health care reform.
"The views of our caucus, and those from the other side who are interested in genuine health care reform will of course be considered," the aide said. "Of course we will talk to, among other people, Olympia Snowe and [Sen.] Jay Rockefeller because we want varying point of views represented in the process. But the only people sitting at the table will be those mentioned."
The remarks offered by the leadership aide are designed to clear some of the air about what kind of strategy Reid is hoping to pursue -- and whom he will consult -- during the delicate process of merging health care bills. Already there has been a huge wave of progressive anger directed at the Nevada Democrat for being too deferential to the demands of the few conservative Democrats and one Senate Republican whose support for reform is tenuous.
On Wednesday night, it was reported by, among others, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann that "Senator Snowe will be invited to future [merger] sessions" as part of a larger effort "to keep the support of the Republican from Maine."
The clarification that Snowe will, in fact, not be at the negotiating table may ease some concern. But it is unlikely to be enough to diffuse the criticisms offered by Olbermann and others about the direction of the merging process. In a scathing editorial on his home site, the Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas whacked Reid for being more concerned with getting the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster than in rallying support behind a genuine and effective reform effort.
"Republican filibuster? Democrats have 60 votes," Moulitsas wrote. "There is no Republican filibuster, just a Democratic one. The problem is Reid's inability to keep his caucus together. His office can't even be honest about Reid's leadership failures... I'll take a Chuck Schumer-run Senate with 57 Democrats (bye bye Reid, Lieberman, and Lincoln) than a Harry Reid-run one with 75 Democrats."
And appearing alongside Olbermann during Wednesday night's segment, emerging progressive icon, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), insisted that efforts to keep Snowe in the fold were coming at far too high a cost.
"The public option would save America over $100 billion, the employer mandate... that would save over $200 billion," said the Florida Democrat. "Isn't that a lot of money to pay for her vote?"
"The leadership is placating Republicans and ideologues at the price of what is in the public interest," he concluded.