Don't get too excited yet, but this might just be the day the oceans start rising again.
If Republican Scott Brown wins today's special election in Massachusetts, President Obama's once-inevitable health insurance reform bill suddenly becomes not-so-inevitable. A Brown victory could also prove the death of any other big plans that Barack Obama had for his presidency and the large majorities he enjoys in Congress. (Think cap-and-trade.)
If Brown wins, depriving Democrats of a Senate supermajority, then there are two realistic ways for Democrats to deal with health care reform. One involves a painstaking process for actually passing something. The other is just a strategy for dealing with failure.
Option one: Pass the Senate bill "as-is" through the House, then fix everything in budget reconciliation
Democrats can avoid a second Senate vote on the health care bill if they do this. As Politico reports, they can even solve the problem of the tax on unions in the Senate bill. But liberal Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., said this morning that such a scheme is unlikely. He has good reasons for believing so.
Also skeptical is Rep. Dan Maffei, D-Syracuse, whose district includes Wayne County. His press secretary, Abigail Gardner, said Friday Maffei is concerned with cuts to Medicare Advantage and opposes taxing high-priced health-care plans. His district has “a large union population,” she said, and union members have given up wage increases in exchange for those plans. Maffei is also concerned with taxes on certain business, such as for the medical-device industry, which would affect his district.
(5) Time. Senate staffers tell me that reconciliation could take a sizable chunk out of the calendar. The bid to rescue an unpopular health care bill will require new committee markups, votes, horse-trading, etc. It will create opportunities for embarrassing floor votes on Republican amendments that will be featured in campaign ads this fall. Democrats are already going to be punished for their health bill, but how much worse can they make it by dragging the process into late February with a gimmicky, nakedly partisan process?
Option two: Plan for failure, then blame the Republicans
This would involve a large game of make-believe. Hold a conference committee (or the unofficial equivalent thereof), create a compromise bill between the House and Senate that can at least pass the House, and then let Republicans (and perhaps a couple of Democrats) block it in the Senate with a filibuster. Blame the Republicans for obstructionism, and go to the voters with that message. This would be brilliant, except (1) the health reform measure is already extremely unpopular, and (2) liberal voters and donors are not so stupid as to excuse such impotence coming from a Democratic supermajority.