Snowe said she was setting laying aside misgivings for now and voting to advance the bill that would help most Americans get coverage without creating a new government insurance plan.
"When history calls, history calls," she said, noting later "My vote today is my vote today. It doesn't forecast what my vote will be tomorrow."
Online NewsHour reporter Quinn Bowman spoke with NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowswer from Capitol Hill today about what she saw at the hearing. Listen to the audio below:
The 10-year, $829-billion health care plan moves President Obama's goal of wider and affordable health coverage a giant step closer to becoming law.
"Not since Theodore Roosevelt proposed universal health care during the 1912 presidential campaign has any such bill come this far," the Washington Post reported.
The plan that Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., had been pushing for months would require all Americans to buy insurance and aims to hold down spiraling medical costs over the long term.
Until the committee's meeting, Snowe told reporters she had not even let Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in on her voting intentions. Democrats, aware that Snowe could possibly be the only Republican in Congress to vote for their health care overhaul, have spent months addressing her concerns about making health care affordable and how to pay for it.
Even though it would mark a large step forward for President Barack Obama's top domestic policy issue, there are several major hurdles that health reform must clear before a bill ever reaches his desk.
Here's a look at what's likely to happen next on Capitol Hill as the reform effort reaches a new phase:
Now that the Finance Committee has passed its bill, Reid will hold closed-door negotiations with Baucus, new health panel chairman Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who led the health committee deliberations, to work out differences between the bills passed by the Finance Committee and the one passed by the Senate Health Committee during the summer.
The Democratic senators' biggest decision would be whether to include a government-run "public" insurance option that President Obama and liberal Democrats support. The Finance bill does not include it, but the Health panel's bill does.
Reid must help craft a compromise bill that can appease the liberal wing of his party without scaring away moderates - possibly even some GOP senators. He wants to maintain the Democrats' fragile 60-vote supermajority in the Senate that could withstand a Republican effort to filibuster a bill on the Senate floor.
The majority leader must also navigate competing views on the level of government subsidies to help individuals buy insurance and a proposed requirement that employers offer health coverage to employees, Reuters reported.
When Reid and the other senators finish their compromise bill, it would be submitted to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office for another cost estimate.
The bill would eventually move to the Senate floor for debate, possibly by the end of October.
Meanwhile, top Democrats in the House of Representatives are also trying to merge three committees' reform bills. A version was submitted to the congressional budget analysts last week for cost estimates. Their goal is to move a bill to the House floor in the next few weeks.
If both the Senate and House pass their separate health care overhaul bills, a conference committee composed of members from each chamber would be established to negotiate the differences and combine the two measures. The public insurance option would certainly be a major issue there as well since all three House bills include it and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has come out strong in favor of it.
Once the conference committee settles on a compromise, the House and Senate would vote once more on the revised measure. If approved, it will be sent to President Obama for his signature or veto. After his first goal of August wasn't met, he established a new goal of signing the bill by the end of 2009.
---- From wire reports with interviews by Quinn Bowman