Future of US healthcare reform in doubt

Republican Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts is a dramatic setback for President Obama’s plans for healthcare reform.

Republican Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts to win Ted Kennedy’s own seat is a dramatic setback for President Obama’s plans for healthcare reform.

Obama has spent most of his political capital on the healthcare bill and the loss of his 60th seat in the Senate means that Republicans can now filibuster the bill to prevent passage. This forces Democrats to find a way to pass the Senate’s existing bill through the House of  Representatives rather then pass a new compromise bill through both the houses of Congress that would require Senate passage.

US political experts dismiss the chances of gaining a 60th vote in the form of Republicans Olympia Snowe due to her previous failure to vote for the reform combined with bad blood between herself and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Thus attention is now focusing on passage of the existing Senate bill through the House without changes. Ezra Klein, Washington Post domestic policy blogger, said:

“It could be passed by the House and signed by the president. House Democrats are reticent to do that, because there are compromises and tweaks and modifications they want made. But those changes are far too small to be worth killing the bill over. And they could be added to the bill separately, through the 51-vote reconciliation process*”.

“The bottom line here is that if the health-care bill fails, it will be Democrats who killed it, not Scott Brown. And people should be clear on that point.”

Joshua Marshall, Editor of Talking Points Memo agreed, arguing that:

“The House simply needs to pass the senate bill without revisions and await changes that will be passed in a separate bill that can be pushed through reconciliation (the content of a particular piece of legislation is critical to determining whether the rules allow it to go through reconciliation). Letting the bill die now would be stupid, frankly suicidal in political terms and good evidence that the Democrats just aren’t prepared to govern the country.”

But the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, a journalist with some of the best access to Democratic policy makers in Washington warns:

“Good luck with that! Not only will a Brown victory make moderates even more skittish about health care, but it will probably fortify the ten or so Democrats who’ve said they will under no circumstances support the Senate bill’s abortion language. Plain language: Democrats don’t have the votes in the House to pass the Senate bill, and they don’t trust the Senate enough to “fix” the bill through the reconciliation process later on.”

Against this backdrop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged “Let’s remove all doubt, we will have health care — one way or another.” One key Democratic aide at the centre of the healthcare negotiations said, “If Nancy Pelosi pulls this off, she will be remembered as the greatest Speaker in the history of the United States.”
* the 51-vote reconciliation vote is a budgetary means by which money elements of a bill can bypass the Senate’s filibuster.

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