Democrats intent to revisit the issue of establishing a public option in the "near future," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Tuesday.

Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, who is sometimes given to more optimistic assessments than his colleagues, said Democrats would try to take up passing a public option again sooner rather than later.

"I am a strong supporter of a public option, remain so, and I believe sometime in the near future, we will revisit that issue again and we will adopt a public option," Harkin said during an interview on CBS.

Senate Democrats dropped the public option from their healthcare bill after centrist members of their caucus balked at supporting the plan, a centerpiece of the health reform agenda. A number of more liberal lawmakers and activists have expressed disappointment that the public option, or even an expanded Medicare buy-in pool, was ultimately excluded from the bill on the verge of passing the Senate.

Harkin acknowledged that the public option probably wouldn't be revisited during the current health debate, though House Democrats could insist on including some version during conference with the Senate bill.

"It's not going to probably going to happen on this bill, because we need the votes to get the big things through," Harkin explained. "We have to keep our eye on what we're trying to do."

But the senator still characterized the bill before the Senate, which they're expected to pass this week, would provide an opportunity for a significant accomplishment in the history of U.S. healthcare.

"We're trying to cross a demarcation line, as I put it. On one side is healthcare as a privilege, on the other side is healthcare as a right," Harkin said. "With these votes, with the vote that we'll take before Christmas, we'll cross that line finally and say that healthcare is a right of all Americans."

Watch the video of the interview below:

Watch CBS News Videos Online