Harkin: Mark My Word, Health Care Reform Will Have a Strong Public Option

In taking up Ted Kennedy’s mantle as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) is leaving no doubt that he plans to fight hard for a politically contentious feature of his panel’s health care reform bill.

“That bill — mark my word, I’m the chairman — is going to have a strong public option,” Harkin told constituents at his annual Steak Fry in Iowa.

He made it clear, too, that he views a strong fight for the public option as part of his role in carrying on Kennedy’s legacy. “We lost a great progressive, a great leader on so many issues,” Harkin said. “It now falls to me to pick up the torch.”

Harkin’s ability to impact the fight over public option will be determined in no small part by whether he’s selected as a negotiator if and when House and Senate health care legislation are merged in a conference committee. Though he now chairs the HELP committee, the panel’s health care process was overseen by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) who acted as chairman until shortly after Kennedy’s death.