Harkin: I Assumed–Wrongly–The White House Pushed Strongly For Public Option

December 22, 2009 4:05 a.m.

Yesterday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) articulated surprise and disappointment that the White House had not done more to push Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to support a public option. Moments before a vote this morning, I asked him to elaborate.

“All I’ll say, I was surprised to hear this because I had assumed all along that the White House was pushing strongly for the public option,” Harkin said. “I just assumed that.”

“Regardless of that, I mean it was clear that in the end that we did not have the votes for it,” Harkin added. “This bill is too important in its entirety to let it sink on that issue.”

“As I said yesterday, the issue of a public option will be revisited,” the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee insisted. “I guarantee it.”(On this question, one of the Democratic party’s leading public option skeptics, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) said, “That could happen, [but] there’d have to be 60 votes.”

I asked Harkin if the outcome might have been different if the White House had ratcheted up the pressure on hold out senators.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to say. What ifs? If? I don’t play that game, what if,” Harkin demurred. “But all I know is where we are now and I see how we have to move ahead. We have to get this bill passed, and then we’ll come back and revisit the public option at some point…next year, the year after.”

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