Tuesday afternoon, the Baucus proposal for health-care reform passed in a much-anticipated Senate Finance Committee vote, gaining the headline-making support of a single Republican, Senator Olympia Snowe. But this is only the first--albeit a major--step toward passing final legislation. Looking ahead, here are pundits' predictions for how the final wrangling over the public option, the insurance industry, and merging rival health-care bills could play out:

  • No Public Option  One thing's clear, writes Chris Cilliza in the Washington Post: "Snowe's support in committee virtually ensures that the public option won't wind up in the final bill as she is on the record opposing such a move and it's hard to see the White House giving up her support after they won it once."
  • Serious Problems Merging with the House Bill, predicts Philip Klein at the right-leaning American Spectator. "[T]here are ... significant differences between the two bills," he notes, so Tuesday's "sense of victory may prove short-lived."
  • Do or Die for Republicans  The Guardian's Michael Tomasky forsees a few "heart-attack moments" before final passage, but writes that "[o]ne way or another, reform looks to have the votes to pass." What to watch for: "the Republicans' next move. They can count noses as well as Democrats can. Do they start to send signals that they're folding up their tent, or do they dig in their heels now?"  Tomasky says he wishes he could witness the coming negotiations between Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), proponents of the former and latter plan, respectively.
  • Insurance Industry Becomes the Villain  Greg Sargent writes at the Plum Line that "the sudden emergence of the insurance industry as a full-fledged reform opponent and all-around useful foil" could play into Democrats' hands: "It could rally the Democratic base behind the White House and Dem leaders at a time when there are still serious Dem divisions over various facets of reform, such as the public option."
  • Rough Times for Reformers  The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn says that while "it’s hard to imagine a scenario under which health reform falls apart, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario under which health reform turns out to be something that makes reformers wince." The "question," he proposes, will be how the Senate and House bills are merged:

    The best case scenario is that we get the best of both approaches--the far-reaching coverage and insurance reforms in the House and HELP bills, combined with the CBO-certified cost control of Finance. The worst case is that we get cost control like House and HELP, with coverage that looks like Finance.

  • The Harry Reid Show  Time's Jay Newton-Small acknowledges that "[t]he notion that anyone is now actually in control of this process is an illusion. But," he continues, "to the extent that anyone's hand is on the tiller, it is Reid's." The Senate Majority Leader will control which amendments come to a vote. His "goal," writes Newton-Small with a hint of a snicker at Senate vagaries, "is to keep enough of those cats happy and moving in the same direction so that he can pass something before Thanksgiving."
  • The Olympia Snowe Show  Publius at Obsidian Wings  points out that, by voting for the Baucus bill in the Senate Finance Committee, Maine Republican Senator Snowe has "gained enormous influence over the final bill" and "attained rights to any Baucus grandchildren. " Also, she'll be a  "media darling ... hailed as a true stateswoman."
  • Health Care Reform!  Don't rain on Steve Benen's parade. Sure, he says, "[t]he sausage-making process ... isn't going to get any easier in the coming weeks." But the liberal blogger is still in celebration mode: "as of this minute, health care reform is so close we can taste it."