Specter: Dems have 60 cloture votes for public option

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) on Thursday said that Democrats have 60 votes for cloture on a healthcare bill with a national public health insurance option. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has grappled with the inclusion of the public option in the final, merged legislation he is drafting alongside top Senate Democrats and White House leaders.

"We have 60 votes without Sen. [Olympia] Snowe [R-Maine] to invoke cloture," Specter told MSNBC this evening. "I hope we have her but we may be able to do it without her."

Specter said the senators on the fence about the public option may vote for cloture to bring the bill to a floor vote, then vote against the legislation.

"Very frequently a senator will vote for cloture but against the bill," he said.

The Senate Finance Committee's bill does not include a public option but the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee bill does. Specter has said for some time that he supports a "robust" public option. 

The Republican-turned-Democrat said that a state-based opt-out public option "may be attractive to some people" but concluded that a national plan without a so-called "trigger" could attract 60 cloture votes.

Finance chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has said that a healthcare bill with a public option could never get the 60 votes it needs to pass the Senate, a position that has provided cover to centrist Democrats -- and Snowe -- who oppose or are skeptical about the public option.

The Hill's Jeffrey Young reported today that negotiators are still crafting major details of the bill, including the form of a possible public option. Today, centrist Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said they considered a national public plan governed by a nonprofit board from which states could could opt out under certain circumstances. 

Carper's remarks suggested it is increasingly likely that some form of public option will be included in the final bill. 

Other than Snowe, who voted the Finance panel's bill out of committee and centrist Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Specter said "I don't think it's realistic to look for support" from other Republicans.