by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The site of the original tea party was the scene of a stunning victory for conservative Americans whose “tea party” fervor fueled the election of Massachusetts GOP State Senator Scott Brown into the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Brown ran on a fiscally conservative platform and made repeated promises to “kill” the massively unpopular health care reform bill which many believe is now doomed.
Brown defeated Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in a 52-47 upset, putting the coveted Senate seat in the hands of the GOP for the first time since 1962. The win has huge implications because it will now end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof super majority at a time when every vote is needed to pass the President’s ambitious health care reform legislation.
Even before Brown’s victory was announced at approximately 9:00 p.m. last evening, the House Democratic Caucus was meeting in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to discuss how to move forward on the health care reform.
“We will get the job done,” the Speaker told reporters as she left the Capitol at 11:30 p.m. last night. “I am confident of that. I have always been confident of that.”
She took a stab at Massachusetts voters, who already have the kind of health care she’s trying to pass for the rest of the country.
“Massachusetts has health care and so the rest of the country would like to have that too. So we don’t [think] a state that already has health care should determine whether the rest of the country should.”
There has already been talk about delaying the seating of Senator-elect Brown in order to give lawmakers more time to pass health care reform. Massachusetts election officials could wait 10 days to collect the ballots of overseas military personnel and then another five to send the results to Secretary of State William Galvin.
However, many lawmakers have rightly dismissed this idea, calling it an underhanded subversion of the will of voters.
Even though their options are few and none of them are palatable, Democratic lawmakers remain hopeful, however.
The president promised to go “full speed ahead” on health care reform and White House senior adviser David Axelrod told Politico: “I think that it would a terrible mistake to walk away now.”
If the Democrats don’t pass the bill, “all we have is the stigma of a caricature that was put on it,” he said. “That would be the worst result for everybody who has supported this bill.”
Unfortunately, the options for passing health care any time soon are few and none of them will be acceptable to an already angry electorate.
White House officials would like the House to try to pass the Senate version of health care reform, thus bypassing the need for another vote in the Senate where Brown has already promised to be the “41st vote” against the bill.
The problem with this option is that too many liberal lawmakers in the House don’t like the Senate bill and say they won’t pass it, even if that means passing nothing. This includes Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his large contingent of pro-life lawmakers who have already proven that they will not vote for any bill that includes abortion funding – which the Senate bill does.
Another option would be for the House to promise to pass a second bill later that would amend the Senate version and make it more palatable to lawmakers who are refusing to sign on due to various problems with the bill. This second bill would be designed to pass through the Senate under special budgetary rules known as reconciliation, which allows legislation to pass on a simple majority.
However, Politico is reporting that Democratic lawmakers were split Tuesday evening over the plan.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said the Senate healthcare bill and the accompanying fix under reconciliation would have to be passed in tandem.
“It would have to be so quick that it would have to happen at the same time,” Weiner said.
Another problem with this plan is that it would take weeks to prepare a bill that could pass under reconciliation rules and the President wants to sign something before he makes his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, a goal that is now seen to be not at all likely.
Several House lawmakers also floated the idea of breaking up the massive bill into smaller packages that could win 60 votes in the Senate, but this legislation would have to overcome many GOP filibusters, all of which could potentially kill the bill.
Many Democrats are not on board with any of these solutions, with some lawmakers, such as Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), calling for a suspension of all further voting on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.
“In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process,” he said in a statement issued after the election. “It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.”
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