Reid says final reform bill will include public option

The majority leader makes a bold promise; to keep it, he'll have to overcome opposition from within his party

By Alex Koppelman

Published October 1, 2009 11:15PM (EDT)

Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee voted down amendments that would have added a public insurance option to the healthcare reform bill it's considering. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apparently doesn't think that's a big obstacle. On Thursday, he promised that a public option will be included in the final version of the legislation considered by the full Congress.

"We are going to have a public option before this bill goes to the president's desk," Reid said in a conference call with constitutents, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. "I believe the public option is so vitally important to create a level playing field and prevent the insurance companies from taking advantage of us."

Despite the central role that the Finance Committee has played in the debate over reform thus far, there are plenty of other ways that a public option could be added to the bill, as Reid promised. But given the near-certainty that the Republicans will filibuster and given the hesitation about the public option -- if not outright opposition -- that some members of Reid's own caucus have expressed, this is one promise the majority leader won't have an easy time fulfilling.

But Reid isn't the only senior Democrat who's expressed confidence that the Senate will eventually vote in favor of the public option. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said earlier this week that he believes proponents of the idea have the votes to pass it. His scenario relied on the idea that all 60 members of the Senate's Democratic caucus will at least come together to defeat a filibuster, even if not all of them vote for the bill itself. (There's also the possibility, of course, that they'll lose a Democrat or two in the filibuster vote and pick up a Republican vote to make up for it.) That may be what Reid is counting on too.

Update: Asked by Salon to elaborate on his boss' comments and explain how the majority leader intends to pass a bill that includes a public option, Reid spokesman Jim Manley declined to comment. Manley would say only that he wanted to reiterate that Reid has been "a strong supporter" of the idea.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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