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Olympia Snowe votes yes on healthcare overhaul, risking retaliation by fellow Republicans

October 13, 2009 | 12:10 pm


For months now, the White House has been courting Maine's Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.  A moderate politician from a moderate state, Snowe was essential to the administration's hopes to claim bipartisan victory on one of the thorniest domestic issues facing President Obama during his first year in office.

In today's Senate Finance Committee meeting, Snowe was the only Republican to support the bill by Max Baucus of Montana, which passed with unanimous Democratic support on a 14-9 tally. "The consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of moving a healthcare reform bill," she said. "When history calls, history calls."

But Snowe, who has served in Congress since 1979, warned that she might yet oppose the bill when it comes to the Senate floor later, particularly if subsequent versions contain a public option, which Republicans fear will cripple private industry, “My vote today doesn’t forecast what my vote will be tomorrow,” she said.

Snowe, 62, is a unique character on the national scene, one of the last East Coast Rockefeller Republicans, a survivor whose personal life was marred by failures in the healthcare system.

Olympia Bouchles was 8 years old when her mother died of breast cancer. Her father, a short-order cook, died of a heart attack less than a year later. Raised by an aunt and uncle with few means and six other children to support, she became a widow at 26 when her first husband, Peter Snowe, a state representative, was killed in a car crash. Winning the election for his seat, she has been in politics ever since, in 1989 marrying John McKernan Jr,, then the governor of Maine.

“Especially when you lose your parents at a young age, you definitely learn to pick yourself up and dust yourself off,” she told the New York Times recently. “You just have to keep working and moving and living. And, in my position, you learn to translate that empathy of your experience into legislation.”

She may need a lot of empathy in coming weeks, if Republicans decide to retaliate. Already some are talking about robbing her of appointment as the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, a perch that will open up when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison returns to Texas to run for governor.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Snowe and fellow Republican Orrin G. Hatch of Utah at today's Senate Finance Committee. Credit: Associated Press

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