Snowe indicates health vote may not occur before Christmas

Centrist Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) suggested that Congress may not vote on healthcare legislation before lawmakers leave Washington for Christmas.

Democratic leaders are pushing to complete healthcare reform legislation before year's end but key issues in the legislation have yet to be hashed out, such as the inclusion of a controversial public health insurance option.

Democrats have courted Snowe for her support on the bill. She could become a crucial vote should Senate Democrats fail to attract the 60 votes necessary on their side to invoke cloture.

"Well, Christmas might be too soon," Snowe told Bloomberg's Al Hunt in an interview that will air throughout the weekend. "Well, you know, there's always that possibility. I know that's not what the president prefers."

Snowe refused to say that such a delay was likely, but added that "nothing would surprise me because of the complexity [of the issue]." She said that a vote would likely not come much before Christmas should it be held before recess.

She stressed the need to give the bill "the time it deserves," something she has routinely said during negotiations.

"[The American people] don't want it put on a fast track. They want us to give it the thought it needs and requires, and that's why I've tried to slow the process down," she said.

Attracting Snowe's support has become an intricate dance for top Democrats, who prefer to make the bill a bipartisan effort. Snowe has said she opposes a public option favored by liberals but would support a "trigger" that would enact a public plan should insurance companies fail to meet certain guidelines. She added this weekend that she opposes a state based public option from which individual states could opt-out, but said she would not characterize it as a "deal breaker." 

Snowe, who voted for the Senate Finance Committee's bill, said she has met with key Democrats on the issue, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Finance chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) She added that her Maine counterpart Sen. Susan Collins (R) has been included in meetings with centrist senators on the topic.