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Fellow Dem says Harkin supports health care reconciliation
Nine Democratic U.S. Senators have signed on to a letter urging their party’s leaders to use a procedural tool known as reconciliation to pass health-reform legislation that includes a public-insurance option, an idea that appears to also be on the radar of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Several sources, including a a former state lawmaker running against Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, say Harkin was adamant in his support of using reconciliation to pass health care reform when he addressed a recent closed-door gathering of state Democratic leaders.
“Tom Harkin informed the Iowa Democratic State Central Committee in Des Moines this morning that, after consultation with President Obama, he will break the health care reform bill into budget and non-budget components,” Democratic candidate for Senate Bob Krause said last month in a statement. “The budget component will move through the Senate under the reconciliation process and the non-budget items will move as a new and separate bill.”
Reconciliation would allow a bill to pass with a simple majority vote, a move that would circumvent Republican promises to filibuster the legislation. The idea of using reconciliation has gained steam in the aftermath of Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race last month which robbed Democrats of their filibuster-proof majority.
A spokeswoman for Harkin would not comment on the idea of using reconciliation, saying only that the senator “has always strongly supported the public option and will continue to fight for comprehensive health care reform.”
The letter, written by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, says a strong public option is the best way to reduce costs and to give consumers more choices, “and we urge its consideration under reconciliation rules.”
Support from Harkin, who chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP), would be a huge boost to the push for reconciliation, advocates say, and they are pressing for him to sign on. Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), Democracy for America, and Credo Action plan to put in thousands of calls from Iowa into Harkin’s office on this issue, according to Adam Green, PCCC’s co-founder.
“When Sen. Joe Lieberman blocked Majority Leader Harry Reid’s public-option bill from getting 60 votes, Harkin went on national TV and said ‘nobody fought harder than me for the public option,’” Green said. “We love Harkin, but now it’s time for him to match words with actions. If he is not willing to sign the Bennet letter, he is not fighting for the public option when his voice is needed most.”
So far, Democratic Sens. Bennet, Roland Burris of Illinois, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Al Franken of Minnesota, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island have signed on to the call for reconciliation.