Weekly Pulse: What Does Coakley’s Defeat Mean for Health Care Reform?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Last night, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts. Coakley’s loss puts health care reform in jeopardy.

With Coakley’s defeat, the Democrats lose their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate. However, as Paul Waldman explains in The American Prospect, Coakley’s loss is not the end for health care reform.

Remember, the Senate already passed its health care reform bill in December. Now, the House has to pass its version of the bill. The original plan was for House and Senate leaders to blend the two bills together in conference to create a final piece of legislation (AKA a conference report) that both houses would vote on. Once the Democrats are down to 59 votes, the Republicans can filibuster the conference report and kill health care reform.

But if the House passes the same bill the Senate just passed, there’s no need to reconcile the two bills. This so-called “ping pong” approach may be the best way to salvage health care reform. Some of the flaws in the Senate bill could still be fixed later through budget reconciliation. It would be an uphill battle, but nothing compared to starting health care reform from scratch.

The second option would be to get the bill done before Scott Brown is sworn in. According to Waldman, there could be a vote within 10 days. The House and Senate have already drafted some compromise legislation, which Waldman thinks is superior to the straight Senate bill. If that language were sent to the Congressional Budget Office immediately, the Senate could vote before Brown is sworn in.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said in a statement last night that Brown won’t be sworn in until the election results are certified, a process that could take two weeks. Historically, the winners of special Senate elections have taken over from their interim predecessors within a couple of days. If the Republicans were in this position, they’d use every procedural means at their disposal to drag out the process. The question is whether the Democrats have the fortitude to make the system work for them.

Remember how the Republicans did everything in their power to hold up the Senate health care vote, including forcing the clerk to read the 767-page bill aloud? They were trying to delay the vote until after the Massachusetts special election. If it’s okay for the GOP to stall, the Democrats should be allowed to drag their feet on swearing in Brown.

Also, remember how the Republicans fought to keep Al Franken from being seated after he defeated Norm Coleman?  For his part, Franken says he’s determined to pass health care reform one way or another, according to Rachel Slajda of Talking Points Memo.

Incongruously, some Democrats are arguing that rushing to a vote would be a violation of some vague democratic principle. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) wasted no time in proclaiming that there should be no vote before Brown was sworn in. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), of all people, averred last night that the Democrats should respect the democratic process and start acting like they have 59 votes while they still have 60.

All this talk of  “respecting the process” is hand waving disguised as civics. According to the process, Scott Brown isn’t the senator from Massachusetts yet. According to the process, you have the votes until you don’t.

Talk about moving the goalposts. It’s bad enough that we need 60 votes to pass a bill on any given day. Now, they’d have us believe that we also need 60 votes next week. Webb and Frank are arguing that Brown’s victory obliges Democrats to behave as if Brown were already the Senator from Massachusetts. Of course, if Webb won’t play ball, it’s a moot point. The whole fast-track strategy is predicated on 60 votes. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly thinks that Webb effectively took the fast-track option off the table with his strongly worded statement.

Katrina vanden Huevel of The Nation argues that this historic upset should be a wake up call to President Barack Obama to embrace populism with renewed fervor. I would add that Obama was elected on a platform of hope and change. There is no better way to fulfill a promise of change than to reshape the nation’s health care system and provide insurance for millions of Americans.

Ping pong, anyone?

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Norm Coleman Polling Gov. Race?

Via the MN Progressive Project:

Is former Senator Norm Coleman polling the Gubernatorial race?

It certainly seems that way, based on a report I received from a reader. A call came from a firm in North Carolina asking several poll-style questions:


  • Positive or Negative impression of "Former Sen. Dayton"

  • Positive or Negative impression of "Speaker of the State House Margaret Anderson Kelliher"

  • Positive or Negative impression of "Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak"

  • Match-ups between all three and Coleman AFTER "Positive or Negative" question.

It's not the first hint that Norm might want to run - the Star Tribune weighed Coleman's options last week. Sure, he has high name ID and good fundraising chops - but then there's that little matter of the federal investigation:

...Coleman would face potential roadblocks. The FBI is still investigating his relationship with Nasser Kazeminy, a major political donor accused in lawsuits of funneling payments to Coleman through a business where Coleman's wife worked.

It's over Norm.

Update [2009-7-9 11:34:32 by Josh Orton]: From the comments, 'blue south' finds evidence that it wasn't Norm's poll.

There's more...

Final reflections on Franken vs. Coleman

It's a relief to close the book on the 2008 elections now that Al Franken will finally be able to take up the Senate seat he won last November.

Talking Points Memo posted their Top 10 moments from the mostly infuriating, sometimes comical Franken-Coleman saga.

We can laugh at Coleman's pretzel logic during the legal proceedings, but unfortunately, his gamesmanship deprived Minnesota of full representation in the Senate for half a year. In all likelihood Franken will be stuck with less-than-stellar committee assignments. Also, the delay did lasting damage to Franken's seniority. Had he been sworn in on time, he would have outranked several fellow Senate Democrats, which could become important one or two terms down the road.

Nevertheless, I have high hopes for Senator Franken and look forward to his work in Washington.

P.S.- I still don't understand why so many Minnesotans voted for Dean Barkley.

P.P.S.- Rush Limbaugh is still a big fat idiot.

There's more...

BREAKING: Franken Wins! UPDATED: Coleman Concedes!

From MSNBC:

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that Democrat Al Franken be certified as the winner of the state's long-running Senate race.

The high court rejected a legal challenge from Republican Norm Coleman, whose options for regaining the Senate seat are dwindling.

Justices said Franken is entitled to the election certificate he needs to assume office. With Franken and the usual backing of two independents, Democrats will have a big enough majority to overcome Republican filibusters.

You can read the decision here.  I can't get near a television, so I'm not sure what the talking heads are saying.  At Fox News, I'm sure it's something about the liberal activist judges trying to steal an election.  I might just have to watch O'Reilly tonight to see him suffer.

There's more...

Light at the end of the tunnel for Franken?

Nearly eight months after a plurality of Minnesota voters chose Al Franken, the state may finally be close to getting full representation in the U.S. Senate:

[Minnesota Governor Tim] Pawlenty told CNN that he would abide by whatever ruling the Minnesota Supreme Court makes in the contest, where Democrat Al Franken appears to have an upper hand.

"I'm prepared to sign [the certification] as soon as they give the green light," Pawlenty said. "I'm not going to defy an order of the Minnesota Supreme Court. That would be a dereliction of my duty."

It's not clear when the state Supreme Court will issue a ruling. Rumors on June 18 that a decision was imminent proved false.

Whenever the decision comes down, it is almost certain to be in favor of Al Franken. Expect howling from the same people who agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court on December 12, 2000, that certifying the winner quickly was more important than counting all the votes cast.

Sore loser Norm Coleman may file suit in federal court, but Pawlenty indicated on CNN that he would sign a certificate without waiting for Coleman to exhaust the federal appeals process.

There's more...

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