Maine’s two U.S. senators said President Obama got it right when he called for a bipartisan summit later this week to break the impasse over health care reform.

But Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins had a different take on the latest reform plan laid out by the Obama administration Monday morning.

”I had urged the president to convene a bipartisan health care meeting with the goal of crafting consensus health care reform,” Collins said in a written statement Monday. ”Unfortunately, it appears the administration has instead chosen to rehash the arguments surrounding the flawed health care bills considered last year.”

Snowe’s reaction was more tempered.

”I remain convinced that convening a bipartisan group of (senators) who are committed to reform is essential,” Snowe said in a written statement. ”I certainly appreciate the president’s effort to find common ground on some of the problems that plagued health care reform legislation last year, and I will reserve judgment on the new proposal until I have thoroughly reviewed the initiative in full detail.”

Snowe and Collins, both moderate Republicans, voted against the Senate’s reform bill in December. They criticized Democrats for pushing through a partisan proposal, saying it would hinder job creation and harm small businesses.

But both Maine senators were seen last year as potential supporters of a bipartisan reform plan. Snowe, as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, voted last fall in favor of moving an early version of the health care bill out of committee to the full Senate.

Snowe’s membership on that committee and her role as a Republican negotiator could give her a seat at the summit Thursday. It was not clear Monday, however, who would be attending the meeting. Neither Snowe nor Collins had been invited, their staff members said.

Snowe’s statement indicated that she is ready, again, to help negotiate a bipartisan plan. ”I look forward to continuing to play a constructive role in this debate,” she said.

Collins, meanwhile, said the president should focus on some clear areas of agreement, such as reforms in the insurance market and tax credits for self-employed workers and small businesses that cannot afford insurance.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said in a written statement that she is encouraged by the Obama administration’s efforts. Pingree voted in favor of the House version of a health care bill and has been urging Senate Democrats to push forward with a more ambitious plan that includes a public insurance option.

”I’m glad the president isn’t giving up in the fight for comprehensive health care reform, and his proposal is a good starting point for renewed debate,” she said. ”I still believe we should include a public option as part of any legislation.”

Pingree wants the Senate to use a procedural maneuver called reconciliation that allows budget-related items to be passed with a simple majority of 51 votes. To pass controversial bills, the Senate typically needs 60 votes to overcome any filibuster, and Democrats no longer control that many votes.

Senate Democrats and the administration have not ruled out such a maneuver, but said they intend to seek Republican support Thursday.

Snowe warned that the use of reconciliation, instead of compromise, would be a big mistake.

”We should really be trying to build consensus around health care reform so that we can enact reforms that stand the test of time and are not simply reserved until partisan control of the Congress reverts from the Democrats to the Republicans,” she said.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]