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January 16, 2010
Health care reform scenarios if Brown wins
The panicked Democrats are thrashing about trying to come up with a way to save health care reform if Republican Scott Brown wins the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday to fill Ted Kennedy's seat.
The first scenario involves challenging the results of the election, no matter how much Brown wins by. The Democrats have already deployed their crack team of election law lawyers who will attempt to muck up the process of counting the ballots, challenging machine counts, trying to force a recount if the result is close enough, and generally throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings.
The Massachusetts Secretary of State must certify the results within 10 days of the election. That means it's likely that the earliest Brown could be seated would be January 29 - barring challenges to the vote. It would only be earlier if the Democrats in the senate agreed to swearing Brown in before certification - good luck with that one.
If a Brown victory is within the 3-5% margin, it will be days, perhaps weeks before he is sworn in. The watchword will be "Delay" and if it's close enough, they will probably succeed in keeping the caretaker senator Paul Kirk in his seat until health care reform is safely passed which, according to ABC's Rick Klein, won't be until February 2 at the earliest.
But suppose Brown wins by a large margin or the Democrats run out of challenges before reform is passed? Then things can get a little sticky.
Jonathan Chait at TNR:
As the likelihood grows that Republicans could win the special election in Massachusetts, it's worth thinking again about alternatives for health care reform in case that happens. I see three, in descending order of preference:
Option #3 is to flip Olympia Snowe. The Maine senator may very well end up voting for the revised package since, according to Chait, all of her concerns about the bill have been met. Her calculation now is purely political; how badly does she want to remain in the Republican party?
Mainer Andrew Ian Dodge insists that Snowe is never likely to bolt the GOP in Maine, even if the national Republicans would strip her of her seniority or punish her in other ways. But former Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords bolted for a lot less than the Dems would offer Snowe to switch parties. It is a distinct possibility given the alternatives.
Obviously, #3 would be the preferred route. The fact that #1 is almost certainly off the table giving the time period I mentioned above, the only other option is to blow up the senate by using reconciliation to pass reform.
If the Democrats were to employ reconciliation in getting health care reform passed, the Republicans would have no choice but to bring the senate to a standstill. If they didn't, the Democrats would be able to ride roughshod over them for the rest of the year, not to mention destroying the principle of minority rights. It is a scorched earth option that the Democrats use at their own peril.
The only other option the Democrats have is to vote to get rid of the filibuster entirely. This, I don't see happening. Saner heads in the party realize that they will not always be in the majority and that the filibuster is a useful tool to block legislation. Besides, they would need a supermajority to change the rules of the senate which means several Republicans would have to go along with the scheme - not very likely.
The most likely scenario? If Scott Brown pulls off the upset and is seated before health care reform is passed, I think reform will die. It may not even be able to pass the House as a couple of dozen members take note of what happened in the most Democratic state in the union and resist voting for this unpopular monstrosity of a health care reform measure.
Welcome news, indeed. But first, Brown has to win.