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Wednesday, January 20, 2010


With the historic victory of Scott Brown to the United States Senate last night, health care reform is in jeopardy. Propelled to victory by a large number of self-identified independents, Brown, a Republican, has vowed to vote against the current health reform being contemplated by Congress. For many months, the focus has been on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) gathering of and tenuous hold on 60 Democrats. Once Brown is seated, and the Democrats lose their filibuster-proof majority, all bets are off.

Politico newspaper writes in an web article titled “Dazed Dems Rethink Reform” that,
“But what seemed a certainty a week ago feels unlikely today. Don't take the word of republicans or even reporters on this one. Listen to what Democrats are saying as they appraised the results overnight: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) told a local reporter, “It’s probably back to the drawing board on health care, which is unfortunate.” Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) told MSNBC this morning he will advise Democratic leaders to scrap the big bill and move small, more popular pieces that can attract Republicans. And Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said his leadership is “whistling past the graveyard” if they think Brown’s win won’t force a rethinking of the health care plan. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who now might draw a challenge from Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), said the party needs to rethink its entire approach to governing.”
With Democrats growing markedly uneasy, the options before them grow more politically undesirable almost daily. Supporters of the health bills may make a fast and furious push to get the House to pass the Senate version before Brown is seated. There are other assorted political tricks and maneuvers that could be attempted – involving reconciliation – which would only require 51 votes. However, there is no Congressional Budget Office score that includes the modifications known to have been negotiated, like organized labor’s changes to the tax on so-called “Cadillac Plans”. Further, using the Reconciliation process has many problems of its own. The Byrd rule, which ensures that bills passed using this process relate to the budget, would likely mean many key (like insurer reform) parts of the bill would be out. Further, that CBO score must comply with rules, but again has not yet been sought. Also, the process of using Reconciliation would mean that Republicans could offer endless amendments, creating tough votes for the Democrats.

Late this afternoon President Obama, himself taking note of the turning political tide, urged lawmakers not to try to "jam a bill through" but to reduce the scope of the restrucuring effort to "those elements of the package that people agree on."

It is unclear what the strategy is going to be, but check back soon as this unfolds. One thing is certain, if the Massachusetts election of Scott Browns is a referendum on the dislike of the current health restructuring effort, then many supporters who were already becoming uneasy, are now decidedly so.

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