From Ezra Klein at The Washington Post:
The list of senators charged with merging the Finance and HELP bills into the legislation that will actually come to a vote on the Senate floor is vanishingly small, and every participant is there for a reason. Harry Reid will preside. Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, will be one of the chief negotiators. Chris Dodd, who led the HELP Committee’s health-care efforts, will be the other. And that’s about it. Oh, except for one other person:
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said that Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, the lone Republican on the Finance Committee to vote in favor of the bill, would be invited to future sessions. And Mr. Manley said the Democratic leader was prepared to go to substantial lengths to keep Ms. Snowe’s support.
“He is prepared to do what he can to keep her on board while putting together a bill that can get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster,” Mr. Manley said.
Democrats really want this bill to be bipartisan — to the point that they’re giving the Republican a space in the negotiations equivalent to the chairmen of the two relevant committees.
This shifts the room’s balance of power substantially: The negotiations were previously confined to one liberal Democrat and one centrist Democrat. Now they’ll be between one liberal Democrat, one centrist Democrat, and one moderate Republican. In practice, this is likely to mean that Baucus will have something of a trump card against Dodd. If there’s a particularly thorny dispute, and Snowe weighs in strongly alongside Baucus, it’s hard to imagine Reid siding with Dodd, except in the most extraordinary of cases.
There will also be issues that Snowe brings to the table herself. For one thing, she wants to make sure the bill is affordable, but that just means that people can afford the fees, not necessarily that what they’re buying will be good insurance. One of her ideas, actually, is to make the minimum benefit package less generous. She also wants to open up the exchanges and push for her public option trigger.