What Will Coakley’s Defeat Mean for Health Care Reform?

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

Even with Brown's election, procedural options exist for the Democratic majority to pass health reform in the next 10 days. Do the Dems have the fortitude to make this happen?

This article is posted in partnership with the Media Consortium, of which Rewire is a member organization.

Last night, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley
in the special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat in
Massachusetts. Coakley’s loss puts health care reform in jeopardy.

With Coakley’s defeat, the Democrats lose their filibuster-proof
60-seat majority in the Senate. However, as Paul Waldman explains in The American Prospect, Coakley’s loss is not the end for health care reform.

Remember, the Senate already passed its health care reform bill in
December. Now, the House has to pass its version of the bill. The
original plan was for House and Senate leaders to blend the two bills
together in conference to create a final piece of legislation (AKA a
conference report) that both houses would vote on. Once the Democrats
are down to 59 votes, the Republicans can filibuster the conference
report and kill health care reform.

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But if the House passes the same bill the Senate just passed,
there’s no need to reconcile the two bills. This so-called “ping pong”
approach may be the best way to salvage health care reform. Some of the
flaws in the Senate bill could still be fixed later through budget
reconciliation. It would be an uphill battle, but nothing compared to
starting health care reform from scratch.

The second option would be to get the bill done before Scott Brown
is sworn in. According to Waldman, there could be a vote within 10
days. The House and Senate have already drafted some compromise
legislation, which Waldman thinks is superior to the straight Senate
bill. If that language were sent to the Congressional Budget Office
immediately, the Senate could vote before Brown is sworn in.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said in a statement last night that Brown won’t be sworn in until the election results are certified,
a process that could take two weeks. Historically, the winners of
special Senate elections have taken over from their interim
predecessors within a couple of days. If the Republicans were in this
position, they’d use every procedural means at their disposal to drag
out the process. The question is whether the Democrats have the
fortitude to make the system work for them.

Remember how the Republicans did everything in their power to hold
up the Senate health care vote, including forcing the clerk to read the
767-page bill aloud?
They were trying to delay the vote until after the Massachusetts
special election. If it’s okay for the GOP to stall, the Democrats
should be allowed to drag their feet on swearing in Brown.

Also, remember how the Republicans fought to keep Al Franken from being seated after he defeated Norm Coleman?  For his part, Franken says he’s determined to pass health care reform one way or another, according to Rachel Slajda of Talking Points Memo.

Incongruously, some Democrats are arguing that rushing to a vote would be a violation of some vague democratic principle. Sen. Jim Webb
(D-VA) wasted no time in proclaiming that there should be no vote
before Brown was sworn in. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), of all people,
averred last night that the Democrats should respect the democratic
process and start acting like they have 59 votes while they still have 60.

All this talk of  “respecting the process” is hand waving disguised as civics. According to the process, Scott Brown isn’t the senator from Massachusetts yet. According to the process, you have the votes until you don’t.

Talk about moving the goalposts. It’s bad enough that we need 60
votes to pass a bill on any given day. Now, they’d have us believe that
we also need 60 votes next week. Webb and Frank are arguing that
Brown’s victory obliges Democrats to behave as if Brown were already
the Senator from Massachusetts. Of course, if Webb won’t play ball,
it’s a moot point. The whole fast-track strategy is predicated on 60
votes. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly thinks that Webb effectively took the fast-track option off the table with his strongly worded statement.

Katrina vanden Huevel of The Nation argues that this historic upset should be a wake up call to President Barack Obama to embrace populism with renewed fervor.
I would add that Obama was elected on a platform of hope and change.
There is no better way to fulfill a promise of change than to reshape
the nation’s health care system and provide insurance for millions of

Ping pong, anyone?

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