Harkin says he has the votes to pass public option bill in the Senate

The Senate has the votes to pass a healthcare reform bill including a public option, a key Senate chairman said Tuesday.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said that the Senate "comfortably" has a majority of votes to pass the public plan, and that he believes Democrats can muster 60 votes to break a filibuster.

"I have polled senators, and the vast majority of Democrats — maybe approaching 50 — support a public option," Harkin said told the liberal "Bill Press Radio Show." "So why shouldn't we have a public option? We have the votes.

"I believe we'll have the 60 votes, now that we have the new senator from Massachusetts, to at least get it on the Senate floor," Harkin later added. "But once we cross that hurdle, we only need 51 votes for the public option. And I believe there are, comfortably, 51 votes for a public option."

The Iowa lawmaker's statements mark a bold claim that Democrats have the votes to pass a health bill in the Senate including the prized public (or "government-run") plan after signs for weeks now that centrist Democrats and virtually all Republicans would not support a bill including the provision.

Citing the three House committees' and his own Senate committee's bills including the public plan, Harkin asserted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should include the public plan when merging the HELP bill and the Senate Finance Committee's proposal — which doesn't include the public option — for debate on the floor.

"I would hope — assume — that in the bill we send to the floor, it will have a public option," Harkin said. "Then let the minority offer amendments to take it out, and we'll see where the votes are."

"Bring it out there, let's vote on it," he added.

That maneuver could become moot, however, if the Finance Committee passes an amendment from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) bill that would include the public plan.