POLITICS
11/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Harkin Hangs Tough: We Still Can Get 60 Votes For A Public Option

One of the most prominent champions of a public option for health insurance coverage insisted on Wednesday that he still has the 60 votes needed to get it through the Senate -- despite the finance committee's rejection of the provision yesterday.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the Huffington Post that he is confident that Democrats can break a Republican filibuster against a public option proposal provided it is the right version. He noted that the proposal put forth by Senator Chuck Schumer in an amendment to the finance committee's legislation "only lost by three votes."

"That's pretty darn good," said Harkin. "But it wasn't ours. It wasn't the HELP Committee's. Our public option was adopted by the Blue Dogs in the House as a bridge. So yes, I think ours is the way to go and I think we can get to 60 votes for the public option. I really do."

The chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Harkin helped author one of the four pieces of health care legislation that contained a public plan (the other three are House bills). The proposal hit a major roadblock on Tuesday after the Senate Finance Committee twice shot down amendments that would have added a version of the government-run plan to its health care legislation.

But Harkin insisted that the impasse is not permanent. The Iowa Democrat said his Democratic colleagues should "absolutely" commit to "voting for cloture" even if they oppose the bill. If the full caucus makes such a commitment, it would ensure that the reform legislation receives an up-or-down vote.

Harkin also stressed that conservative Democrats skeptical of the public plan are out of touch with the sentiments of the rest of the country and predicted that the party's popularity rankings would skyrocket once reform with a public option is passed into law.

"This is not some throwaway," he told the Huffington Post. "This is not some, well maybe this or maybe that. The vast majority of the American people, over 60 percent of the American people say we have to have a public option. This isn't even a close question."