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MAINE MAVERICK DEFIES WALL OF 'NAY'

WASHINGTON - Forget Sarah Palin. The female maverick of the Republican Party is Sen. Olympia Snowe.

The 62-year-old, moderate Maine lawmaker voted on Tuesday for a Democratic health care bill, breaking with her party and giving a major boost to President Barack Obama's drive to expand coverage to millions of Americans. "Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it," Snowe told her colleagues on the Finance Committee. "But when history calls, history calls."

"The status quo approach has produced one glaring common denominator, that is that we have a problem that is growing worse, not better," she said in explaining her support for the bill.

There was much relief in Democratic ranks when she finally said, "Aye," and the bill was approved 14-9. For months, Obama had pursued her support in phone calls and meetings. Snowe could be the Democrats' 60th vote required to overcome Republican objections to the bill and give the final version the barest quality of bipartisanship.

"I want to particularly thank Senator Olympia Snowe for both the political courage and the seriousness of purpose that she's demonstrated throughout this process," Obama said.

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