It’s not all too often that people all across the country find themselves concerned with the outcome of a special election in Massachusetts, but that’s precisely what’s happening today. When Senator Ted Kennedy passed away months ago, he vacated a seat he had held for nearly 50 years. During his tenure, he championed some of the greatest advances in health care policy this country has been able to accomplish. As I, and many others have noted, if Kennedy’s death leads to yet another defeat of health care reform, the irony would be almost too much to bear. And yet, that’s exactly what’s on the line today, as Bay Staters go to the polls to vote for Kennedy’s replacement: either democrat Martha Coakley or republican Scott Brown.
Massachusetts is one of the most liberal states in the country, though, so Coakley should win in a landslide. There’s just one problem: Brown’s beating her in all the polls. It’s actually a fairly close race. It’s just that when you’re expecting there to be no contest, any contest at all, especially one wherein you seem to be trailing slightly, already begins to look like a defeat. We’ll know more by tonight.
What are the implications of all of this for health reform? Well, there are basically two outcomes. If Coakley wins, reform moves ahead as it has been, with the House-Senate ping-pong and all of that. If Coakley loses, however, the democrats no longer possess the super-majority (i.e., 60 votes) in the Senate that they need to vote for cloture and pass the conference report. Health care reform dies an ugly death as a result of Ted Kennedy’s vacant seat being filled by a Republican from the Bluest State in the Union. I can already feel myself getting a bit clammy….and not in a chowda kind of way.
In the event that Scott Brown wins a Senate seat, health care reform has only one chance left: The House would have to vote on and pass the Senate’s health care bill–exactly the same one the Senate passed on Christmas Eve. You see, if there are no changes made to that bill, the Senate doesn’t have to vote on it again. Only if a new compromise bill emerges would the Senate have to vote. If they’re back to 59 seats, the Dems aren’t going to want to go there. Is this a bad thing? Maybe a little. But, remember, the conference report was most likely going to look a lot more like the Senate bill than the House bill anyway. So it’s not clear just how much you lose. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway. Maybe when the sun comes up on Wednesday morning, the people of New England will have made me proud. I guess we’ll see.