Silver lining

SILVER LINING…. Developments this afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee were hardly ideal — after extensive debate, two separate amendments on the public option were defeated.

And yet, about an hour ago, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) declared, “The public option is on the march.” Wishful thinking? Maybe, but it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge that the news today, while discouraging, was not all bad.

For one thing, it seems pretty clear that the Senate Finance Committee will, in all likelihood, pass a health care reform bill, almost certainly this week. That tells us that once the Baucus bill is merged with the Senate HELP Committee bill, reform legislation will be headed to the Senate floor for the first time. The goal of getting the entire initiative finished by Thanksgiving is still entirely attainable.

For another, given today’s vote(s), reform advocates have two more supporters for a public option. Going into today, The Washington Independent‘s Public Option Scoreboard featured 47 supporters of a public option, 39 opponents, and 14 senators who are “on the fence.” Two of those 14 — Bill Nelson (D) of Florida and Tom Carper (D) of Delaware — voted for the Schumer amendment.

Adding two to 47 obviously doesn’t produce a majority, but Tom Harkin seems to think some of the remaining stragglers are on board, too.

The Senate has the votes to pass a healthcare reform bill including a public option, a key Senate chairman said Tuesday.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said that the Senate “comfortably” has a majority of votes to pass the public plan, and that he believes Democrats can muster 60 votes to break a filibuster.

“I have polled senators, and the vast majority of Democrats — maybe approaching 50 — support a public option,” Harkin said told the liberal “Bill Press Radio Show.” “So why shouldn’t we have a public option? We have the votes.

“I believe we’ll have the 60 votes, now that we have the new senator from Massachusetts, to at least get it on the Senate floor,” Harkin later added. “But once we cross that hurdle, we only need 51 votes for the public option. And I believe there are, comfortably, 51 votes for a public option.”

Now all reformers have to do is convince every senator in the Democratic caucus to let the Senate vote on a reform bill.