Tuesday, January 19, 2010

President Obama, Meet Senator Scott Brown

It certainly wasn't unexpected if you read my projection yesterday, but Scott Brown has defeated Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by the death of incumbent Ted Kennedy.

The latest results have the margin at 5.4%, slightly larger than my final projection. We'll see where the final results come in and then scorecard the projection, but it looks like I was within 2% on the margin.

Congratulations to Scott Brown. He ran a fantastic campaign in a state with uphill demographics at just the right moment in hitory.

The spinning has already begun -- if you asked Republicans, this is the end of the world for the Democrats. If you ask the Democrats, this was a local race with a lousy candidate.

As I said yesterday, the truth is probably somewhere inbetween, but this does feel like a pretty strong repudiation of the Democratic agenda. If Massachusetts votes against giving the Democrats 60 votes in the Senate, and trust me, voters there understand the implications, then who DOES want them to have 60?

So, the $900 billion question is...where does all of this leave health care reform?

We'll have to see the next few weeks play out, but I'll simply say for now -- it doesn't help the DEMs. The options going forward are well documented, but I'll rehash them here with my own assessment:

1. Ramrod a bill through before Brown takes office. It will take approximately 15 days to certify the election, because state law requires waiting 10 days for overseas absentee ballots to come in, followed by 5 days for the cities to validate vote totals. So, the theory goes, for the next 15 days Senator Kirk can still vote in the Senate while Democrats slow-walk the certification.

Odds of this happening: Absolutely zero unless Democrats decide to commit political suicide. Ignoring the vote of the people of Massachusetts to ram through a bill, while it may technically be legal, would toss gasoline on the flames of populist revolt fomenting in this country. Simply put, this scenario will NOT happen.

2. House passes the Senate bill as passed in the Senate. This option averts the need for the Senate to do anything to move the bill forward -- if the House passes an identical bill, the President can simply sign it and be done.

Odds of this happening: Low to moderate, but not impossible. House Democrats don't like the Senate bill and particularly don't like the thought of having to accept it with no input. But there may be no other way to get a bill and they may decide something is better than nothing.

3. Use Reconciliation. Use the rules of the Senate to pass a bill with 51 votes. The problem is that only budgetary issues are elgibile to use the reconciliation process which leaves out big parts of the legislation such as eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions or creating national health care exchanges.

Odds of this happening: Very Low. You just can't get enough of the bill done this way.

4. Go After Senator Snowe. She voted for the bill in committee. Give in to her demands, whatever those may be and make her vote number 60.

Odds of this happening: Low. Why, after seeing the bloodbath in Massachusetts, would Senator Snowe even consider playing ball? I think she is a woman of principle, but I don't think she is crazy.

5. Scale back. WAY back. Build a bi-partisan consensus.

Odds of this happening: Moderate. Dems may have to swallow hard and pass an incremental bill that does the things the GOP has agreed to. It would be better for them than getting nothing, but not much better.

6. Fail. Pass Nothing.

Odds of this happening: Moderate. This truly would be Waterloo for the Dems, but if you can't make one of the above 5 options, this happens by default.

One thing you can say about American politics, it is never boring.

I think it's safe to say Blanche Lincoln, Arlen Specter and Harry Reid are shaking in their boots tonight. They probably should be. But it is also amazing how much things can change in 10 months. Think of how much they've changed in the past 10.

Thanks for tuning in. Full post-election scorecarding in my next post.

Congratulations again to Scott Brown. As always, I'll take a moment to recognize the wonder that is our republic with peaceful elections and transitions of power. Let's never stop being awe-inspired by what we have in this country. God bless America.

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