AUGUSTA — The president and federal lawmakers should have taken more time to work on health care legislation before passing it, to fix potential problems and to gain bipartisan support, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said Thursday.

Snowe, the state’s senior senator, sat down with the editorial board for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel after President Barack Obama’s speech in Portland.

A major player in the early health care negotiations, Snowe said she got shut out once Democrats realized they had the votes to pass the landmark legislation.

Obama mentioned Snowe by name in his speech Thursday, saying the final product “incorporates ideas from Democrats and Republicans” — including some from Snowe, whom he said he considered a friend.

Unlike when Obama mentioned House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, which drew boos from the crowd, the mention of Snowe’s name prompted applause.

“I consider him a friend, definitely,” she said. “We have a very good relationship in communicating.”

The legislation does include some of her ideas, she said, but not enough to gain her support.

“Some of my ideas, it did. Not enough of them. And then it went off in a different direction,” she said.

In his speech, Obama acknowledged that “we’ll have to make adjustments along the way,” something Snowe said should have been done before final passage.

And while some in the Republican Party are pushing for full repeal, Snowe said that’s not politically realistic. Instead, she said there will need to be reforms and that she’s especially concerned about a Medicare payroll tax she thinks will hurt businesses.

“If they had the votes to pass it, why couldn’t we have the votes to change it?” she said.

Snowe continues to be critical of the legislation, as Maine’s two House members — both of whom voted for it — believe it will benefit Mainers.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, were both recognized by Obama during the speech.

“The president made it clear today how health care reform is going to help Maine seniors by reducing their prescription drug costs, help Maine businesses with big tax breaks for health care, and help Maine families by protecting them from the worst practices of insurance companies,” Pingree said in a statement.

Michaud said Maine doesn’t benefit as much as other states when it comes Medicare reimbursement, but that he will work to make improvements.

“The passage of the bill is certainly not the last word on improving health care in our country,” he said in a statement. “Because a number of the provisions in the bill don’t take effect until 2014, I am confident that Congress will be able to make additional improvements to it moving forward.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is in Qatar on official business as a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Senate Armed Services committees, according to her spokesman Kevin Kelley. She did not see the speech, but reiterated her belief that the president needs to focus on jobs.

“While health care is certainly an important topic, Sen. Collins was hopeful that the president would also use this opportunity to talk more about his plans to help create much-needed jobs and address the struggling economy,” Kelley wrote in an e-mail.

Snowe said while Democrats compare the new law to the creation of Social Security, Medicare and civil rights advances, those measures enjoyed bipartisan support.

She said she’ll continue to work with Democrats on future legislation and hopes that the decision to pass health care without Republican support doesn’t set a precedent.

“It made history in another way by being voted along strict party lines, which is a sad commentary on such a historic initiative,” she said. “Beyond trying to make history, you want to make the right history.”

 

Susan Cover — 620-7015

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