In the face of a possible (though once unthinkable) US Senate win by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts today against Democrat Martha Coakley, Democrats have begun scrambling and racing against the clock to save health care reform.
In the event that he wins, Brown has promised, as the 41st Republican senator, to support a filibuster that would derail the bill. With no votes to spare, that would effectively mean the end of all the work of the past year to produce some version of health insurance reform. Right now, the two bills, one passed by the House and one passed by the Senate, are in conference committee. Whatever results from merging the two bills will need to be passed again by both the House and the Senate. Without 60 votes in the Senate, the bill will surely fail. And with Republicans united against any version of the bill, the Democrats will only be able to muster 59 votes at most.
So some Democrats have come up with a couple of contingency plans:
1) Pass the Senate’s version of the bill in the house with no changes or compromises, discarding the House version entirely. While House Democrats aren’t exactly thrilled with this idea, it would avoid the need for another Senate vote. The original vote there would suffice.
2) Pass the bill really quickly before Brown’s win is certified, which may take a couple of weeks. The conference committee would have to produce a final bill in record time to take advantage of the current 60 vote Democratic Senate majority.
In either case, there would be a sense of tremendous urgency. The bill would be passed quickly and be sent to Obama for signing. There would be a lot of frustrated lawmakers out there and even more frustrated citizens, but they’d prefer half a loaf to none.
Whatever the flaws of the health care bill, and they are many, the basics are still the same. It would protect consumers from most of the current abuses by insurance companies, and would extend health coverage to tens of millions of Americans. It’s important not to let that get away.
So in the event that Brown wins, I predict passage of a bill within a few of weeks.
But what if Brown loses and Democrat Martha Coakley wins?
The Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, not to mention the Obama administration, breathe a sigh of relief. Then they get back to the conference committee, to try to hammer out all the compromises between two pieces of legislation that barely passed their respective chambers. Squabbling ensues and the resolution of the committee drags on and on. Eventually they come up with something not really any better than what they have now. But by that time it’s March or April and Blue Dog Democrats, in the election season, begin to drop off supporting the bill. And instead of losing just the senate, the bill might not even be able to pass the House. And after the election, the Democrats lose even more seats, ensuring that the dream of health care reform is dead for the time being. And consumers are left with more of the same, of increasing premiums, of denial of coverage as a routine matter, and of having their tax dollars go towards providing health care to millions of uninsured.
So which scenario is better?
That’s why a Scott Brown win today might guarantee passage of health care reform.