First humiliation, now whither US health care reform? -

First humiliation, now whither US health care reform?


Reading all the commentary that has come out in the last 48 hours you would think the Massachusetts senatorial election was a referendum on health care reform. That’s going too far. Sure, the victory on Tuesday of Republican challenger Scott Brown in the seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy has ended the Democrats’ super-majority in the Senate, making the passage of Democratic agenda much more difficult.

But there were many other factors at play. For one thing, Martha Coakley was a weak Democratic candidate in a state, that while it stereotyped as “Blue” has a long history of voting for the other side to avoid one-party rule (and has elected numerous  Republican governors.) At this time, the governor is a Democrat, the state legislature is controlled by Democrats, and Democrats hold Congress and the White House.

Second, Massachusetts already has the kind of government-subsidized health insurance system that extends coverage to almost all people that is being debated in Washington.  Brown himself voted for the state program (which was signed into law by then Republican governor Mitt Romney, who must be licking his chops this week in anticipation of another presidential run in 2012) but says he doesn’t want to subsidize it for other states. Fair enough, but it doesn’t imply a national rejection of a national scheme.

Third, unemployment is at 10% and the economy is limping while bankers, recently bailed out by taxpayers, get big bonuses. People are angry and they are punishing the party in power. This would be the case health care bill or not.

Those caveats aside, the race is being interpreted in Washington as a rejection of the health care legislation. And Democrats seem undecided about what to do about it.

The simplest thing to do would seem to be for the House to pass the health care reform bill that has already passed the Senate — even though it is not as liberal as many House Democrats would want. The argument for this is that nothing more liberal can make it through the Senate now regardless. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that there simply aren’t sufficient votes in the House  to do that. Ezra Klein goes over the Democrats’ options.

President Obama has suggested a more stripped down approach — taking a few essential aspects of the legislation — such as expanding coverage, and imposing rules on insurance companies that will prevent them from denying insurance to the sick — and just passing those. He said yesterday, “I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on. We know that we need insurance reform, that the health insurance companies are taking advantage of people. We know that we have to have some form of cost containment because if we don’t, then our budgets are going to blow up and we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance to their families.”

Then today the White House indicated that it is just itching to move past the health care debate to focus on economic populism ahead of the November mid-term elections (and you thought his approach of leaving the whole mess to Congress was surprisingly hands-off before…)  “As the majority leader and speaker continue to look to the best way forward, the president has a very full plate,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “There’s plenty of work for the president to do in the meantime.”

They’d rather talk about enter Obama’s  proposed crackdown on the big banks. In one sense, though, Obama’s timing could not be worse — just as he was announcing his plan to regulate the banks, they and other corporations just got the green light from the US Supreme Court to pile their money into the defeat of candidates they don’t like. As my friend Ben Smith points out, tough week.

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First humiliation, now whither US health care reform?

  1. tough week indeed! and going to get a lot tougher come november after which I have no doubt that Obama will have to ask advice from GW on how to deal with the situation ROFL – so where is all this non partisan, hands reaching across the aisles and can't we all just get along speeches of late?

  2. As John Stewart pointed out after the Mass. election, George Bush was able to bollocks up the whole country without a super majority. Why can't the Democrats get their heads out of their asses and actually work together to get something done?

  3. I think your minimizing the role that health care did play in the election. How many chances to people get to specifically tip the balance one way or another on one specific issue? Every voter in Massachusetts went to the ballot knowing full well that how they voted could pass or reject ObamaCare.

    • No, no, no … the election was about who had the best truck and the voters have spoken.

      • thanks for showing up.

  4. "Was it the only issue? Of course not."

    I agree that outsiders saw this as referendum on health care but Mass. people might have seen it differently:

    "It was health care that nationalized the special election for what we now know is the people's Senate seat. But it was national security that put real distance between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley. “People talk about the potency of the health-care issue,” Brown's top strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, told National Review's Robert Costa, “but from our own internal polling, the more potent issue here in Massachusetts was terrorism and the treatment of enemy combatants.”

    • I was never crazy about this analysis, in part because I think it's almost impossible to ignore the role that health care did play in the vote, but didn't come across some objective verification until now.

      But the normally liberal voters of Massachusetts wished otherwise. The Democrats lost the seat to a candidate, Scott Brown, who promised voters he would be the “41st [Republican] vote” in the Senate – the one that would tip the balance against healthcare. Subsequent polling bears out the view that a decisive number of Democrats switched their votes with precisely that motivation in mind.

  5. I think elections is seen as referendum on health care because pols can no longer delude themselves. For months now, poll after poll has shown that Americans don't want health care reform but pols were either convincing themselves it did not reflect opinion in their State or maybe Dem leaders were putting a lot of pressure on Blue Dogs to stay faithful.

    Mass. result, the most liberal state in US, illustrated to many Dems that health care is not popular anywhere and gives them an excuse to back away from their support for health care.

    Obama focusing on other things on his plate are going to be just as much as a disaster: people want the government to get out of the way, not for President to try out more of his loony left ideas on job creation or the like.

    I disagree about Romney looking forward to 2012 – he is architect of universal health care, not something that most Repubs are keen on. Base will wonder just what kind of conservative Romney is – I think Palin or anyone else who can paint themselves as outsider will be rubbing their hands with glee, not establishment pols.

  6. I'm curious to see how a strong centrist Repub like Romney would cause other candidates to veer strongly to the right during the party nomination procedures, alienating themselves from the undecideds. But I'm probably too indoctrinated by the MSN if I think this way.

    • Just an FYI, but Romney veered way right from the get-go in his run for the GOP nomination in 2008. It's just one reason why many think he's not the sincerest of politicians, and was by far the least liked candidate among his peers during that run.

  7. I loved that headline somewhere. "Republicans win 41-59 majority"

    What a hilarious failure of a democracy America is.

    • I kind of laugh when I hear such derisive trashing of the American democracy, especially when it come from leftists who don't get their way.

      That Obama can't get his agenda passed with the largest majorities in Congress in recent memory says more about his own failure than that of a system that has far more checks and balances than our own.

      Indeed, I think it's far more plausible to argue that it's democracy that saved America from one faction trying to ram its own agenda down the people's throats.

      In Canada, if a party gets a majority of the seats without a majority of the votes, they can do far more undemocratic things, so to speak, than they can in the States. But I guess when the left has that majority, they don't complain much here.

  8. Obama went to Boston on Sunday to try to stem the tide. It didn't do any good.

    I wonder how that ol' cap and trade thing is coming along in the U.S. Senate?

    I think we all know what the answer to that is.

    The U.S. is many things, but a socialistic state it is not.

  9. the fact is that almost all americans would like a better health care system, but they want to be consulted as the changes are made. transparency has been non-existent.