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Senate's Super-Majority Gone…Is Health Reform Next?

Tuesday’s results are in and Republican Scott Brown has won the special election in Massachusetts to take the late Ted Kennedy’s seat in the US Senate.  Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley (52%-47%) in a largely Democratic state (Mass. last elected a Republican senator in 1972) sends a message of disapproval to DC and the Obama administration.  The Democrats super-majority in the Senate is now just a majority, which means that their agenda — most specifically, health care reform — is now in jeopardy.

Will health care reform become law?  Probably.  But it will most likely be a stripped down version of the bills that have passed through the House and Senate.  Look for the public option to go away altogether.  Democrats may try to quickly rush the passage of a bill prior to Brown’s swearing-in by trying to convince the House leaders to accept the Senate version without compromise and immediately send it to Obama’s desk for signature.  But even some Democratic leaders want to avoid any sense of impropriety.

Immediately following Scott’s victory, Mass. Rep. Barney Frank (D) issued a statement advocating a respectful approach to further health reform talks:  “I have two reactions to the election in Massachusetts. One, I am disappointed. Two, I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results.  If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate healthcare bills. But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the Senate, that approach is no longer appropriate.”

The New York Times reported that Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, is calling on Senate leaders to suspend any votes on the Democrats’ health care legislation until Mr. Brown is sworn into office.  “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,” Mr. Webb said. “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.”

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that unless Democrats can thread a very narrow legislative needle, Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory over Martha Coakley in Massachusetts on Tuesday could lead to the collapse of a health-care bill that, only weeks ago, appeared close to becoming law.

Democrats saw a bleak landscape, given numerous polls in Massachusetts — a solidly Democratic state — showing the unpopularity of the health-care effort. The biggest worry in the party is that moderates will now begin to back away from the legislation, fearing its political effects.
“It’s a serious problem, and it’s probably back to the drawing board on health care, which is unfortunate, because everybody agrees we have to do something about health care, and so it would be unfortunate to lose this whole effort,” Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) told a Milwaukee television reporter.

Democrats saw a bleak landscape, given numerous polls in Massachusetts — a solidly Democratic state — showing the unpopularity of the health-care effort. The biggest worry in the party is that moderates will now begin to back away from the legislation, fearing its political effects.  “It’s a serious problem, and it’s probably back to the drawing board on health care, which is unfortunate, because everybody agrees we have to do something about health care, and so it would be unfortunate to lose this whole effort,” Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) told a Milwaukee television reporter.

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