Most of us hope to leave the world in a better condition than when we arrived. We want a safer, cleaner and healthier world for our children and grandchildren. Few of us have the opportunity to shape policies or implement strategies that can impact the world on a broad scale, yet we strive to be conscientious about recycling, about the amount of water or energy we consume, about the wealth we share with others less fortunate and so on.
We contribute what we can, each of us, in whatever ways we can, not only because it is right to do so, but because if enough of us act, we can move mountains.
There are limits, of course, to what an individual can accomplish, unless that individual happens to be a United States senator. Particularly today, in the context of the health-care debate in this era of fractious incivility, one individual, one United States senator, can change the world.
As I write this, President Obama has outlined a health-care reform package estimated to cost $1 trillion over a period of 10 years. He has stated that it will not increase the budget deficit, because savings achieved in the plan will pay for the increased expenses of covering more Americans.
Competing plans seek to trim the cost and eliminate more controversial aspects of the president’s plan, notably the “public option,” which would have the government offer health-care coverage as a backstop for Americans otherwise unable to obtain coverage. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has proposed a more limited and, he hopes, politically palatable plan that he estimates will cost $856 billion over 10 years.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is part of the elite “Gang of Six” purportedly level-headed and bipartisan senators on the Finance Committee who toiled with Baucus to achieve some kind of consensus proposal – except that Sen.Snowe does not support the Baucus plan, nor do any other Republicans in the Gang of Six or in the Senate. Not much of a consensus.
There are legitimate concerns over the Baucus plan, and there are reasons for both proponents and opponents of reform to oppose it. Some claim it doesn’t do enough to make coverage affordable. Others argue that in one way, shape or form, it’s too expensive.
This is not, however, a business-as-usual exercise in legislative horse-trading. For the American people, and their elected representatives, this is a “stand up and be counted” moment.
Sen. Snowe has been an important and often isolated voice of reason in Washington. She has offered a rational, moderate approach to many issues and has bucked the party line and used her influence as a centrist to achieve more measured results, even in the face of pressure from former President George W. Bush and a strong Republican majority.
Indeed, considered far too liberal by the more hard-core elements of her own party, she has been elected to the Senate again and again by thousands of Maine voters who otherwise support Democratic candidates. Many Democratic Party regulars have seen in Sen. Snowe someone clouded less by ideology and guided more by practicality.
Sen. Snowe may not be concerned with what former President George H.W. Bush once called “the legacy thing,” but insofar as she, like all of us, presumably wants to leave the world a better place, she has an extraordinary opportunity to do so.
Today she is once again in the center of the soup, seeking some kind of compromise in health-care reform. Throughout her career she has proved expert at navigating a course that reflects practicality and abhors extremism.
Health care, however, is a defining issue, not just for a legislator, but for our country. It is not merely a cost issue, or a political appointment, regarding which one can artfully forge a compromise and move on. Lives are at stake. At no other time has so much of our population been so imperiled by an enemy as pernicious and entrenched as our own health-care system.
Whether one is moved by legacy considerations or by the simple human desire to leave the world a better place, the hour of decision is at hand.
For Sen. Snowe’s reasoned approach to social issues, Democratic voters thank her.
For her support of more conservative judges and candidates, Republican voters back her.
As for her role in health-care reform, however, all of us are anxiously waiting for her to do the right thing.