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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Life After Massachusetts

Today is a big day for healthcare reform. Or, at least, that's what everyone keeps saying. Apparently, the whole thing hinges on one Senate vote (where have we heard that before?) and that seat, vacated by the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, is being filled by a special election today. The Republican, Scott Brown, is favored to win and this means the one vote everything depends on would be "nay."

Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that healthcare reform was originally scheduled to be finished last August. But then Harry Reid buckled and let Max Baucus go on an interminable snipe hunt for Republican votes. And here we are today, with zero Republican votes. Good job, Max and Harry. You guys are just so competent.

Of course, the idiocy of Senate Democratic leadership may come without consequence. The Democrat in the Massachusetts race, Martha Coakley, could very well win this. Polls have been all over the place, suggesting that this is a dynamic race. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

And preparations for the worst are already going on. For her part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says we're getting reform, whether or not Democrats have 60 votes.

Raw Story:

Speaking to reporters on Monday she suggested that even if Republican Scott Brown becomes a Senator from Massachusetts, it "doesn't mean we won't have a health care bill."

Instead, it would simply be "a question about how we would proceed," she explained, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

"I heard the Republican candidate in Massachusetts say, 'Let's go back to the drawing board,'" Pelodi continued. "The drawing board, for the Republican party, on health care, is to tear it up, throw it away and shred it and never revisit it. This is the opportunity of a generation. If this opportunity is not realized, there won't be health care for every American. There's no back to the drawing board."

So, without the 60, what can Democrats do? Turns out there are a lot of options. The first possibility is for the House to accept the Senate version of the bill, without amendments. If this were to happen, the Senate's original passage of the bill would be the final vote for that chamber. Without amendments to agree to, there would be no second vote and the number of Republicans wouldn't make any difference.

Of course, the Senate bill is a lousy bill and whether the House would accept it word for word is an open question. Still, the possibility is there and I can't imagine that it's not at least on the table as an option.

Another possibility is passing it right now and pronto. If Brown wins, he won't be seated immediately, so passing legislation before he's sworn in also negates his no vote. The problem with this one should be obvious, though -- if we could get this done right away, it would've been done in August. Apparently, there's also a perception problem with this.

"Ultimately, rushing a bill through Congress could prove politically damaging to Democrats," writes Lea Winerman for PBS, "giving Republicans the opportunity to accuse them of ignoring the will of voters." This line of criticism strikes me as particularly insane, because it would pass on a majority vote. But Democrats have screwed up messaging wars before and I wouldn't bet against them blowing that one, too.

Finally, there's budget reconciliation. Using this, they wouldn't be able to pass the entire bill, but a good chunk of it. Then they'd go back and pass provisions point by point as separate laws. According to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Democrats are "prepared for the process of using reconciliation."

And, of course, there's the final option, in which Brown is seated, votes to filibuster, and the whole thing goes down in flames. Given the awful leadership up and down the line on this issue, don't bet against this one.

While it's still possible that Martha Coakley can pull this off, it's hard to believe that Democrats aren't already preparing their post-Massachusetts game plan. Whatever it is, it can't possibly be as bad as everything else they've done so far.


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