WASHINGTON (AP) – Sen. Olympia Snowe, the last holdout, gave her Republicans the vote they needed to pass a 2004 budget. But Snowe, a moderate who has never been shy about defying her more conservative colleagues, may win the day in holding Congress to a far smaller tax cut than they and President Bush wanted.

After intensive lobbying by GOP Senate leaders and the White House, Snowe agreed to vote for a $2.27 trillion budget for 2004 that endorsed up to $550 billion in tax cuts. But that vote came only after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, assured her that the final tax cut emerging from House and Senate negotiations will be no more than $350 billion over 10 years, the figure she sought.

Snowe, 56, won a Senate seat in 1994 by emphasizing that she represented Maine’s independent streak and as a House member voted with her party only half the time.

She was the most moderate Republican elected to the Senate that year and has since cemented her reputation as a politician who seeks centrist solutions, even when she has to defy the party line.

She and Sen. John Breaux, D-La., head the Centrist Coalition, a group of about 30 moderates who have sought to break down partisan barriers to legislation.

In the 1980s, as a House member, she fought against the Reagan administration in backing the Equal Rights Amendment. She criticized the first President Bush’s veto of the Family Medical Leave Act and, after trying unsuccessfully in 1999 to forge a compromise over President Clinton’s impeachment, was one of five Republicans to vote to acquit Clinton on both articles of impeachment.

She strongly supports abortion rights, opposes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and backs a higher minimum wage, campaign finance changes and a Medicare prescription drug benefit, positions more closely associated with Democrats. She is a solid conservative on defense issues.

Snowe thrust herself into the spotlight this month by joining Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ill., and several other Republicans in demanding that Bush’s proposed $726 billion tax cut over 10 years be cut in half, to $350 billion.

With Democrats nearly united against the larger tax cut, Snowe held powerful leverage over her party, which had to cut a deal endorsing the $550 billion wanted by the House while accepting that the final tax cut would likely be smaller.

This approach, Snowe said, “reflects that $350 billion may represent the largest tax cut a majority of the Senate will support. I believe our approach bridges differences between the many Democrats who support either a small tax cut or none at all, and the many Republicans who would vote for an even higher figure.”

Snowe brings a veteran’s perspective to politics. Originally a Democrat, she entered the Maine state house in 1973 as a Republican, filling the seat of her husband Peter Snowe after he was killed in a highway accident. At the time she was an aide to Rep. William Cohen, a Republican who went on to become one of Maine’s senators and Clinton’s defense secretary.

In 1978 she was elected to the U.S. House as the youngest Republican woman and the first Greek-American woman ever elected to Congress. She married John McKernan Jr., then governor of Maine, in 1989.

In 1994 the surprise decision by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, to resign prompted a race between Snowe and Maine’s other congressman, Democrat Tom Andrews. Snowe won with 60 percent of the vote. She was easily re-elected in 2000.

Snowe was born on Feb. 21, 1947, in Augusta, Maine to a father born in Greece and a mother whose parents emigrated from Sparta. She was orphaned at age nine and raised by an aunt and uncle.

On the Net:

Snowe: http://snowe.senate.gov/

AP-ES-04-11-03 1905EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.