Thursday, January 21, 2010

Does Scott Brown's Election Seal Health Care Reform's Defeat?

Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts ran on a promise of being the forty-first vote to kill the partisan "health care reform" bill, ironically named after the late Senator Kennedy. Independent voters rallied to give him a huge victory in Tuesday's special election. While the vote margin wasn't "huge," the victory itself was. That much is beyond debate, though there will be much finger-pointing on how and why it happened. More on that later.

Looking forward, what impact will this have on the health care reform legislation, which is currently in conference? Many are talking about different "gimmicks" that the majority can use to push it through before Brown is seated in the Senate. Some are suggesting using the "reconcilliation" process, which only requires fifty-one votes. None of these will work, for a number of reasons.

First, there are no grounds to delay seating Brown. If the vote were closer, a recount would be understandable. However, Coakley has conceded, and the margin was signifigant enough to preclude any such shenanigans, at least from Massachusetts officials. In the Senate, several prominent Democrats have said moving forward before Brown is seated would be inappropriate.

Second, the House will not accept the Senate version of the bill. This was already evident, before Brown's election. Speaker Pelosi got the House version passed with a small margin, and had to accept the Stupak "anti-abortion funding" amendment, which is not in the Senate bill. All of this adds up to little chance for her to "twist arms" any harder, for a bill that many liberal House members don't like, either.

Third, almost every time the majority has tried to rush this bill through, they have failed to meet their deadline. Both houses passed their respective bills on late night weekend votes, over the holiday season. Considering they wanted to get to that point before the August recess, they couldn't brag about getting it done by the end of the year. Even if Coakley had won, this wouldn't have been ready for the President to sign for weeks, if not months. There were still many sticking points between the two bills, as noted above.

Finally, there are the national implications of Brown's victory. When the Massachusetts senate seat occupied by Ted Kennedy for over forty years is taken by a Republican, there's more than local politics at play. Democrats in both the House and Senate have to be looking over their shoulders, even in solidly "blue" states like New York and California. Suddenly, those screaming people at last Summer's "town hall" meetings and "tea parties" don't seem like the butt of a joke, anymore.

Whatever the fate of this health care reform bill, there is an undeniable political wave, moving throughout the nation. Call it "populism," "anti-incumbent backlash," or whatever, it's currently aimed squarely at the Democrats. Remember, they've held the House majority since 2006, and the Senate for almost as long. So when they say the anger is about "the last eight years," they were deeply involved in the latter half of that period.

There's a lesson here for Republicans, as well. These independents were the same people who withdrew support for the GOP, starting in 2006. They are not going to support any pol who gives "lip service" to tax and spending cuts, but doesn't back it up with actual votes. The GOP may ride this wave back into the majority this year, but it could turn around just as quickly. The "tea party" people will be watching, and holding their feet to the fire, which is the way it should be.

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