Senator Tom Harkin says there’s “quite a bit of room” for maneuvering as he and other top Democrats in the senate craft a health care reform package. Harkin recently became chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions or HELP Committee and he’s working behind the scenes to merge the bill passed by his committee with the legislation that cleared the Senate Finance Committee this week.
“Don’t forget the HELP Committee’s bill came out in July and, you know, it’s sort of like the forgotten little brother…It got kind of lost in all this tumult in the Finance Committee, but we have a bill that is broadly supported among Democrats,” Harkin says. “…We accepted 161 Republican amendments, for crying out loud.”
Harkin expects Senate Democrats to be able to stop a Republican filibuster of the bill themselves “with or without” moderate Republican senators like Olympia Snowe who voted for the Senate Finance Committee bill this week.
“It’s sort of like what the Republicans are saying is, ‘We want it all our way or we won’t vote for anything,'” Harkin says. “Well, we’ve been accommodating. We’ve reached compromises, but they still say they are going to vote against it.”
Harkin says a so-called “public option” will be in the senate bill. “And especially if we’re going to have a mandate that everyone has to buy insurance, then certainly it would be bordering on the unconscionable to mandate that you have to buy insurance from a private company,” Harkin says. “At least, then, by having a public option out there, people at least have the choice of a private or a public option.”
Harkin made his comments this morning during a conference call with Iowa reporters. Harkin did not signal support or opposition to the provision in the bill which cleared the Senate Finance Committee this week that would require that all Americans obtain health insurance.
Listen to Harkin talk with reporters here: Tom Harkin 15:00 MP3