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Gaming Out A Potential Coakley Loss And The Future Of Health Care Reform

I’ve seen a lot of liberals try to claim that health care could still pass even if Martha Coakley loses to Scott Brown next Tuesday. They offer up three scenarios:

1) The House and Senate sneak in the compromise bill being worked out right now before Brown gets seated. This probably has the most potential of the three, but Sam Stein did a tick-tock of the timing, and it doesn’t seem to add up. Ping-ponging the bill means getting the deal scored by CBO, passing the House and then jumping through the Parliamentary hoops to pass the Senate. And they’d have to do all that by January 29, seen as the date any new Senator would be sworn in. With that kind of time frame, they’d have to pass something without the CBO analysis, or waive the three-day rule for putting legislation on the Internet which Pelosi and Hoyer just touted yesterday. Doesn’t seem likely.

2) The House just passes the Senate bill. I’d be absolutely shocked if Pelosi could find 218 votes for this purpose. This would mean no excise tax deal, no deal on exchanges, the same poor affordability targets, AND the Nelson amendment, which would send Stupak and his cadres for the hills. Someone would have to write on a list the names of the 218 members in the House who would vote for that. Even the House members most invested in getting something, anything done are still saying that the Senate bill couldn’t pass the House.

3) Go back to Olympia Snowe and see what she wants. That would wind you up with a bill that could be worse than the Senate bill, at which point you get all the same problems. Plus, listen to Harry Reid on this one – Olympia Snowe wasn’t interested in coming around, ultimately.

Really, the best-case scenario for Democrats in the event of a loss would be that it’s a close loss. Within 1/2 of 1%, to be exact, which is the threshold whereby the challenger can call for a recount, a process which would take several weeks, allowing Democrats to temporarily hold their 60-vote majority long enough for passage.

Stein is right with this close:

That Democrats have been forced to game out such scenarios is a testament not just to the value of the election, but the poor campaign that Coakley has run. It’s also caused more than a bit of angina within the party.

“People in Massachusetts are freaking out,” said one commonwealth pol. “Just as people nationally are freaking out.”

UPDATE: I think Barney Frank puts it pretty plainly: “If Scott Brown wins, it’ll kill the health bill.” He was quite critical of Coakley in the article.

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David Dayen

David Dayen