Health Care Could Be First Casualty of Brown Victory

Posted January 19, 2010 at 9:42pm

Republican upstart Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts on Tuesday shattered the Senate Democrats’ supermajority in the chamber, and the first casualty of his victory could be the Democrats’ push for a massive health care overhaul.Brown bested Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) in the special election race to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the “liberal lion— whose passion was health care reform.Though Democrats have only been able to boast of a filibuster-proof 60 votes for a little more than six months, leaders came to rely on all members of the Democratic Conference to overcome the procedural blockades thrown up by a largely united Republican minority.Now that Republicans will have the minimum needed to mount a filibuster – 41 votes – they could conceivably stymie the Democratic agenda for the rest of the year.And Republicans were already feeling emboldened by the win, viewing it as validation of their opposition to health care and other issues the majority has pushed over the past year.“I think it will help to solidify the notion that the American people, all over the country, are opposed to the bill,— Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) speculated before the results were in. “There’s no way you can spin it as not a referendum on health care — as well as other issues, but clearly on health care. And I think that will cause even more concern on the part of Democratic Members of Congress about voting for it. And of course it could have a direct impact on a vote, if there’s a vote taken here in the Senate, and [Brown] votes against the legislation, obviously.—Republicans also contend that Brown’s victory may aid the National Republican Senatorial Committee in courting more top-tier challengers to vulnerable Democratic incumbents.“The NRSC is circling back with every tier one candidate who told them ‘no’ and saying, ‘Are you sure?’ and I think a number will reconsider,— said one former Senate GOP leadership aide.Democrats appeared to be feeling the heat almost immediately. Moments after Coakley conceded the race, the health care bill appeared to be on life support, with many Democrats who supported the Senate measure’s passage in December clearly having cold feet about supporting it again.“I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated,— Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said in a statement Tuesday night.Sensing they were on the verge of defeat in the special election, the White House reportedly began to push for the House to abandon plans for a compromise health care bill and instead simply take up and approve the Senate-passed bill.House leaders, who had previously rejected the idea, did not rule out the possibility when asked about it Tuesday afternoon. But many House Democrats dismissed the suggestion after a Caucus meeting Tuesday evening.“If it comes down to that Senate bill or nothing, I think we’re going to end up with nothing. I don’t hear a lot support on our side for that bill,— Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said.Lynch, who voted for the $1.2 trillion House bill, said he didn’t agree with the message being pushed by Democratic leaders that it is better to pass the Senate bill, to “have some points on the board,— than not to pass anything. “I can’t see anything worse than this Senate bill that’s coming our way,— he said. The problem is that “most of the reform has been stripped out.—Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) suggested on MSNBC that Congress simplify their bill and make clear to voters that Democrats “get the message.—Still, President Barack Obama along with Congressional leaders are likely to make the case that failure to enact something will certainly doom the Democrats’ fortunes come November. If the House doesn’t take up the Senate-passed bill, another option is for Democrats to dramatically scale down the measure and pass it using filibuster-proof budget reconciliation rules.One possibility for salvaging reform — pushing a compromise package through both chambers before Brown gets seated — got a cool reception from a key House Democrat. Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.) said it the approach wouldn’t “look right.— But he didn’t throw cold water on the idea of passing the Senate bill in the House with an agreement to move quickly on a reconciliation bill that would bring the package more closely in line with House priorities. Waxman said lawmakers would need to “think through different options and see what’s available.—Democrats had been racing to finish the health care bill before the Massachusetts special election appeared close, because they felt bogged down by the fight and wanted to pivot to bills intended to create jobs and jump-start the economy. Congressional Democratic leaders spent the bulk of last week at the White House trying to hammer out a deal.“To some extent, there already has been a realization that we need to more directly address the economy and jobs, and this year’s agenda will reflect that. It’s time to get back to basics,— said one senior Senate Democratic aide.Some Democratic aides acknowledged that the party made a strategic error in relying solely on the votes of Democrats to get the health care bill passed in that chamber. Requiring consensus from all 60 Members of the caucus left no room for error and gave individual Senators more incentive to play for their own political interests.“Sixty was the worst thing that ever happened to us because it empowered people to be selfish, egotistical whiners,— said one Senate Democratic aide. The aide added that the tactic damaged Democrats by exposing the natural tensions in the party between liberals and moderates.One Democratic aide said a silver lining for Democrats would be that Republicans can no longer claim they have no control over the Senate, and that Democratic arguments about Republican obstruction will have a stronger force.David M. Drucker, Steven T. Dennis, Jennifer Bendery and Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.