Snowe’s Healthcare Vote Shows How Prevalent Polarization Has Become

Why is voting against party lines so unheard of these days?

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The "Olympia Snowe factor" is the talk of the town with today's vote on the Baucus health reform bill coming out of the Senate Finance Committee. All eyes are on Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, who was the only Republican to join 13 Democrats on the committee in voting for the bill.

Why does her one vote matter so much? University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato writes in today's New York Times:

When Lyndon Johnson needed extra votes for his civil rights bills in the 1960s, he turned to liberal Republicans, primarily from the Northeast and Midwest. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 received the votes of 27 Senate Republicans and 136 House Republicans, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 got 30 G.O.P. votes in the Senate and 111 G.O.P. votes in the House. And let's not forget Medicare, the public policy predecessor to today's reform efforts. Johnson was able to find 13 Senate and 70 House Republicans to back Medicare in 1965. Compare this to a universe of perhaps a dozen Republicans in both houses of Congress who are even theoretically available to support Obama's reform approach this year...

Thanks to a broad-based polarization of the two parties that has accelerated since [the Reagan years], there are just a handful of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats left in Congress. Even most of the "Blue Dog" Democrats are more moderate than conservative, if you examine their voting records closely. So a president has very few members of the loyal opposition to woo in seeking the margin of victory for his legislative package.

The problem isn't that the small state of Maine is the pivotal vote for 16 percent of our economy; the problem is that there aren't more moderates in office from other states who could join Snowe as swing votes, too. It shows how polarized and partisan our Congress has become, as well as our electorate. We should expect a lot more party-line votes between now and the midterm elections.

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