NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The political talkers in Washington have been full of 'what if' scenarios if Martha Coakley loses the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. Is there any way to advance the health care bill if Democrats lose their 60-vote super-majority? Yes, there is. But there are no good options. Nancy Pelosi's leadership abilities in the House will be stretched. In the end, all the hardball choices are ill-advised.
The easiest way to get health care through Congress is for the U.S. House to pass the exact same bill that's already cleared the Senate. If the bills are identical, they don't need to go back to the Senate. It's the easiest way. It is also the most politically damaging for bluedog Democrats and other Dems in competitive districts. The Senate bill was never intended to be passed as-is. Abortion funding, pubic option, medicare funding, the Cadillac-insurance tax, and a half-dozen other issues were supposed to be hammered out in conference committee. Still, if push came to shove, Nancy Pelosi could probably deliver the votes. She has no margin for error, and could lose only 2 of 3 votes and still pass health care. No one, even supporters, would like the bill. But President Obama would have his health care reform. But it is entirely possible some Democrats in the house could flip-flop, if they get cold feet after today's events in Massachusetts.
All other options are messy.
Democrats could rush a bill through conference committee, and try to get a 60-member vote in the Senate before Scott Brown takes his seat. There are two problems with that. First, Massachusetts law suggests that their interim senator loses his seat as soon as the election is over. But the law is ambiguous. A court fight would follow. And the politics is bad. The rest of the nation sees the Massachusetts vote as a proxy referendum on health care reform. For the plan to be publicly rejected only to move forward legislatively would be damaging.
Democrats could delay seating Scott Brown while continuing to rush the healthcare bill through. Certifying the election results in Massachusetts could take a few weeks, and at the state government level Democrats control all of the key offices. A full blown recount could take a month or more. And the health care bill would become more unpopular during that lag period. More seats would be lost this fall.
Or there could be a last-ditch effort to sway one Republican vote in the Senate. Maybe Olympia Snow, who probably has a price in mind for her vote. This gives the bill a bipartisan stamp of approval, but Snowe's bargain may drive other votes away.
Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank is as good a vote counter as there is on Capital Hill. Hes says Coakley's loss would kill heath care reform. Unless his fellow democrats are willing to give up dozens of seats to get a bill, he's probably right.
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