As the health care debate grows increasingly partisan and the pressure on the White House to produce specific proposals grows, President Obama could find an ally in Sen. Olympia Snowe, the only GOP senator who has been willing to consider a government-run insurance option.
The partnership is hardly unusual. The Maine senator is considered a moderate Republican and frequently partakes in Senate bipartisanship groups.
But the former first lady of Maine is also a part of a shrinking crew of moderates who are willing to reach across the political aisle to come together on thorny issues. She was one of only three Senate Republicans to vote for the $787 billion stimulus.
Snowe, whose political career began as a representative in the House in 1973, has taken part in and initiated bipartisan talks on issues ranging from the economy to energy to health care.
In 2007, she found the Common Ground Coalition with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to build consensus among Democrats and Republicans on key political issues.
"Sen. Snowe is incredibly important in terms of what comes out from the Senate but that has to do with because she is one of the last few remaining moderates -- handful of moderates in either party," said Mark Brewer, assistant professor of political science at the University of Maine. "Being in that relatively small group almost by necessity means you're going to be in a position of some power in the Senate, and the fact that Sen. Snowe has been in that position for a long time, the fact that's she builds relationships, I think that... has further empowered her."
It is no surprise then that Snowe has become a leading voice in the health care debate, although her voice has been rather muted compared to some of her GOP colleagues.
Snowe has held closed-door discussions with both lawmakers and White House officials. She has been to the White House at least three times since January to discuss health care and the stimulus, and met one-on-one with the president on July 16.
A senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, Snowe is proposing to keep a public option as a "safety net plan" -- call it the "trigger" -- that would be offered if the private industry fails to offer affordable coverage.
Republicans have lashed out against Democrats' proposal of a government-run insurance plan, saying it would unravel the private industry. Democrats who support the plan say it will increase competition and ensure that private insurance companies are not denying citizens coverage, but even some liberals are worried about costs.
Under Snowe's proposal, which she first introduced in spring, insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions, and a government insurance plan will serve as a fallback if the private industry does not reform within a certain time period. But the plan would not be offered in areas where there is not enough competition to provide citizens with low-cost health insurance.