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Ted Kaufman: Public Option Picks Up 34th Supporter

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Sen. Ted Kaufman will vote for a public insurance option as part of a health care reconciliation package, the Delaware Democrat told HuffPost Tuesday evening.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has been lobbying senators to back the public option through reconciliation, said Tuesday morning that they would begin to run ads in his home state encouraging him to get on board the effort.

"I'm for a public option, if there's some way that it can get done," he said. "If it qualified under reconciliation, then I would," he said, when asked if he'd vote for it on the floor.

Kaufman is the 34th Senator to commit to supporting the public option through reconciliation. Two others -- Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) -- are public option supporters but have not committed to passing it through reconciliation.

With their support, public option backers would be 14 votes short of victory; White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said recently he doesn't think there is enough "political support" for the public option in the Senate. Reconciliation allows the majority to pass budget-related legislation with 50 votes plus a tie-breaker from Vice President Joe Biden.

"When someone as close to the White House as Ted Kaufman is supporting the public option in reconciliation, one has to ask: What broken calculator is the White House using when saying the votes aren't there? It's like they are going out of their way to ask congressional Democrats to abandon a political winner in an election year," said the PCCC's Adam Green. "If the White House wants Democrats in Congress to walk the political plank, they need to name names -- who in the Senate would oppose the public option after the usual 4 or 5 suspects?"

Another Democrat told HuffPost Tuesday she's still on the fence. "Oh, I don't know. That's a good question," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), when asked if she'd vote for a public option under reconciliation rules.

Asked what her concerns were, she said: "I don't know. I'd have to think about it."

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said he was open to reconciliation. "I'd prefer not to do it, but under the circumstances, that might be the only way we get legislation passed around here is using reconciliation. So I'm going to keep an open mind on it," he said.

What about the public option?

"No," he said. "We worked out the public option in the Senate bill in a way that I think is good for the country." The public option was stripped from the Senate bill before it passed with 60 Democratic votes.

Harkin, meanwhile, told HuffPost that he was for the public option but "not if it doomed the bill."

Harkin said he had concerns that the House balance would be upset if there was a public option in the Senate bill and he "will follow the leadership of Speaker Pelosi on this, see how many votes she's got, see what they send over. But the answer is not if it jeopardizes the bill."

A House Democratic aide noted that the lower chamber has already passed a public option. "The House is on the record as passing the public option. The Senate needs to show the House they have the votes," said the aide. "Thirty-four is a long way from fifty."

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), perhaps the most eccentric member of the Senate, a title that doesn't come easily, declined to comment. Asked if he'd vote for a public option under reconciliation, he tightened his lips into an imperceptible expression and touched HuffPost on the arm, apparently in consolation for not answering. Asked about reconciliation in general, he repeated the gesture, never once opening his mouth.