With a Republican victory in today's Massachusetts Senate special election looking more possible by the minute, Democrats could be considering contingency plans for passing health care reform in the event they lose their 60th vote in the Senate.
Republican candidate Scott Brown has unabashedly told Massachusetts voters he would act as the Republican party's "41st vote" in the Senate to effectively filibuster the Democrats' health care overhaul. That means if he wins today, Brown could squash the compromise bill House and Senate Democrats are nearly finished drawing up.
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Both the House and Senate have passed their own versions of reform, but after the bills are merged, both chambers will have to vote on the new version before sending it to President Obama's desk. If Brown does indeed win, Democrats could try to speed up their negotiations to pass a compromise bill in the Senate before Brown were sworn in as Massachusetts' new senator, but Democrats have already ruled that out, the New York Times reports.
Instead, the White House and Senate Democrats may ask House Democrats to simply pass the bill already approved by the Senate, according to multiple reports. However, there is serious doubt that the Senate bill could even pass the House.
CBS News Capitol Hill Producer Jill Jackson reports that one Democratic aide pointed to a letter signed by nearly 200 House members opposing the Senate bill's excise tax on high-end "Cadillac" insurance plans. House and Senate Democrats have brokered a tentative deal on the excise tax, but that deal would be thrown out the window if Democrats were forced to accept the Senate bill for the sake of expediency. Other important potential compromises would have to be scrapped, such as House Democrats' preference for a national health insurance exchange over the Senate bill's system of 50 state-based exchanges.
Accepting the Senate bill would be a bitter pill for liberal Democrats to swallow after already making a series of compromises to pass the House health care bill. The progressive blog FireDogLake is even asking if House Democrats who raised money on a pledge to only support a health care bill with a government-sponsored insurance option should give that money back if that pledge is broken (which is a near-certainty at this point).
At this point, though, after Democratic candidate Martha Coakley dramatically stumbled from what was believed to be an easy victory in the Massachusetts race, even a compromise health care bill could be a hard sell in the House, where moderates will face the daunting task this year of defending their health care votes in re-election campaigns.
"Even in liberal Massachusetts, most voters are opposed to it," director of Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen, told the Wall Street Journal. "If it's not popular in Massachusetts, it's really not popular anywhere."
Lest anyone question the Democratic leadership's resolve on passing this bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday, "Let's remove all doubt that we will have health care one way or another."
More on the Massachusetts Senate Race:
Brown Vs. Coakley: It's All About Enthusiasm
Brown, Coakley and the Supermajority
Coakley Trails Brown in Bellwether Polls
Obama's Agenda Hangs on Mass. Senate Race