Health care bill hangs in the balance

Chris Rizo Jan. 19, 2010, 2:40pm

Martha Coakley (D)

U.S. Capitol building

Scott Brown (R)

BOSTON (Legal Newsline)-The special election today in Massachusetts will decide more than just who will be the Bay State's next junior U.S. senator. Also hanging in the electoral balance is whether Democrats will be able to pass the national health care overhaul sought by President Barack Obama.

You see, if the Senate seat held by the late-Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., goes to Republican state Sen. Scott Brown, it could spell doom for the national health care bill pending in Congress.

Brown, a committed opponent of the bill, and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, are running for the U.S. Senate seat Kennedy left vacant after 46 years, following his death in August from brain cancer.

If Brown wins the seat, there would be a larger political implication beyond just stymieing Obama's top domestic priority -- it would mark the end of the Democratic Caucus's 60-member majority. They would no longer have magic number needed to thwart the opposition's filibusters.

The Senate health care bill -- authored by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- passed Christmas Eve with exactly the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican procedural objections.

One option Democrats have in the event of a Republican win in Massachusetts is to have Senate Democrats force the health care overhaul through the upper chamber by bypassing the Senate rules and passing the legislation through reconciliation, which requires passage of budget-related issues with just 51 votes.

A more controversial element of the plan would require House Democrats to approve the Senate's bill, and send it directly to President Obama for his signature, without making any changes. The move could be problematic since many rank-and-file House Democrats have many objections to the Senate-passed measure, including funding for the expansion of health care coverage for the uninsured.

The House- and Senate-approved health care bills would, among other things, extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans and create health insurance exchanges where individuals can shop coverage. The plans would also prohibit health insurance companies from refusing coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Amid the tight race in Massachusetts, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that Obama was both "surprised and frustrated" by how hotly contested the Senate race has become in the state where Democrats far outnumber Republicans.

For her part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday that she and her fellow Democrats are committed to fulfilling Obama's top domestic priority: expanding health care to Americans.

"Let's remove all doubt," Pelosi said in San Francisco. "We will have health care one way or another."

Speaking to reporters in her hometown, Pelosi said Brown's suggestion that Congress should reconsider the health care legislation is off the mark.

"I heard the candidate in Massachusetts, the Republican candidate, say, 'Let's go back to the drawing board,'" she said. "The drawing board for the Republican Party on health care is to tear it up and throw it away, and shred it and never revisit it. This is the opportunity of a generation. If this opportunity is not realized, there won't be health care for all Americans."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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