Attention Must Be Paid.

Although the fact that Olympia Snowe voted for the Finance Committee's version of health-care reform was welcome, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. If Snowe had voted no, she would have made herself instantly irrelevant, because a no vote there would have guaranteed a no vote on the floor, and another no vote on the conference report that will combine the House and Senate versions.

That's because the Finance version is the most conservative bill of the five that have been passed, and it will only get less so as it proceeds. When it gets combined with the version already passed out of the HELP committee, what emerges will be a little more progressive. When that combined bill gets negotiated with the much more progressive House bill, what emerges will be a bit more progressive still (just how much, we don’t know). While there are plenty of details left to argue over, we certainly won’t be getting a more conservative bill at either of those two stages.

So if Snowe voted against this one, there would be no way she would vote for any of the versions to come, and we could all stop asking, "What does Olympia Snowe want?" But now, everybody involved, all the way up to the president, has to continue kissing Snowe’s ring, lest they lose the yes vote she can continue to wave in front of them.

The same goes for the conservative Democrats in the Senate, who will continue to enact a kind of dance of the seven veils over the fundamental question of whether they will join a Republican filibuster of health-care reform. Expect to see a lot of Ben Nelson in the coming days, but don’t expect him to commit to anything -- once everyone knows what he's going to do, the pleading (not to mention the national news exposure) will stop. And there’s nothing these senators love more than having people get down on their knees before them and beg. That’s why we saw Joe Lieberman waving his hands yesterday morning, saying, in effect, “Look at me! I might vote no! Look at me! Kiss my behind!”

Ah, the pageant of democracy.

-- Paul Waldman

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