One of the public option's strongest Congressional supporters insisted on Monday that while the Senate is poised to pass health care legislation that does not offer consumers a government-run insurance plan, he will bring the idea up again -- most likely after that bill is passed.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told reporters that the public option is not dead. "It will be revisited," he said. "I'm just saying, I believe it is so vital and so important that it is going to be revisited. Believe me." The Iowa Democrat said that "even next year," senators "may be doing some things to modify, to fix, to compliment what we've passed here."
The idea of pushing for the public plan as a stand-alone piece of legislation sometime down the road has been championed by other supporters of the provision.
Harkin did not blame the White House for the absence of a public plan in the Senate's bill, as his colleague, Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) did in a statement on Sunday night.
Also unlike Feingold, he hinted that he was giving up for now. Asked whether he would consider reinserting the public option into the legislation during the conference committee set to commence between the House and the Senate, Harkin replied: "I didn't say that. I said it would be revisited."
Acknowledging that, philosophically, he favors components of the House's version over some in the Senate's, he nevertheless said that when he goes to conference committee it will be as an advocate for his chamber's product.
"I always say when we go to conference we are going to stick with the Senate side," Harkin said. "Look, I'm a conferee, I have to fight for the Senate and I will fight for the senate but we will have to make compromises with the House."
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), likewise, insisted on Sunday that the conference committee would have to produce legislation that mirrored the Senate's or risk losing key conservative Democratic support. Asked about this process on Monday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) kept mum.
"We have to pass this bill in the Senate first and we will worry about the next steps at a later time," he said.